Lane County commissioners mull changing county name

The Lane County Board of Commissioners is mulling the possibility of changing the name of Lane County, citing the racist past of its namesake Joseph Lane.

Posted: Jun 20, 2020 7:09 PM
Updated: Jun 20, 2020 7:19 PM

EUGENE, Ore. – The Lane County Board of Commissioners is mulling the possibility of changing the name of Lane County, citing the racist past of its namesake Joseph Lane.

On Tuesday, the board directed staff to form a committee and issue a report about the history of Joseph Lane’s life and consider how to gather more input on a name change from the community.

Marc Carpenter, a historian and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Oregon, has spent much time looking into Lane’s life.

“I think a lot of people will be horrified that their county is named after this man,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter said Lane, a politician and military figure, rose to prominence after the Mexican American war, becoming Oregon’s first territorial governor and later one of the first senators.

But Lane is perhaps most famous for running as the vice-presidential candidate on the Southern Democratic ticket in 1860, a party known to be staunchly pro-slavery, which made him unpopular in Oregon.

“He was very very pro-confederate in addition to pro-slavery. And so the narrative is he retired in disgrace,” Carpenter said.

Lane also reportedly spoke approvingly of killing native civilians and also joked on the campaign trail about participating in the rape of native women.

“It was so common to be in favor of the murder of indigenous people in the 1850s that it passes without comment for many people. That was a normal thing for white Oregonians to believe in in that period,” Carpenter said.

Even after slavery became illegal, Carpenter said there is strong reason to believe Lane kept a boy and considered him property.

While changing the county’s name is far from a done deal, board members raised the possibility of choosing a different Lane to name the county after.

“Why are we named for Joseph Lane? Why aren’t we named for some other good Lane?” said Commissioner Pete Sorenson during a recent board meeting.

Still, some have concerns about what it would take to actually change the county’s name.

“I don’t know if we should spend millions of dollars changing every sign around Lane County that could be used to help people in other ways,” said Sherrlyn Bjork, a Eugene resident.

The board plans to take lots of public input before making any decisions.

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