Oregon lawmakers vote to change lyrics to state song activists call racist

Oregon lawmakers vote to change lyrics to state song activists call racist
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Oregon lawmakers have voted to approve changing some of the lyrics to its state song to remove what many activists have long argued celebrated racist elements of the state’s history. 

The state Senate approved the resolution in a 23-5 vote before it was filed with Oregon’s secretary of state on Wednesday. The measure had already been approved by the Oregon state House in a 47-6 vote in April. 

The song, “Oregon, My Oregon,” written by John A. Buchanan with music by Henry B. Murtagh, was adopted as the state’s official song in 1927. 

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Lawmakers argued in the resolution that since the song’s adoption, there has been a “significant cultural, historical, economic and societal evolution” that warrants changes to ensure “Oregonians of all backgrounds deserve an inclusive way to celebrate our great state in song.” 

The resolution also said that the lyrics must be read within the context of the “de jure exclusion” of Black and Chinese people “in the early decades of Oregon’s statehood,” and that Oregon “has been, and continues to be, home to native peoples from time immemorial.”

The modified lyrics, written by Oregon musician Amy Donna Shapiro, include changing the original line, “Land of the Empire Builders, Land of the Golden West; Conquered and held by free men, Fairest and the Best,” to “Land of Majestic Mountains, Land of the Great Northwest; Forests and rolling rivers, Grandest and the best.” 

Additionally, the resolution would replace the line, “Blest by the blood of martyrs,” with “Blessed by the love of freedom.” 

The proposed changes come amid efforts across the country to remove colonial-era monuments and monikers deemed to be racist following last year’s wave of demonstrations against racial injustice.

The text of the Oregon measure cites “an active and ongoing national movement to secure truly equal treatment for peoples of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.” 

Shapiro said in an interview with The New York Times on Wednesday that during her time as a music teacher and choir director, she was repeatedly hesitant to teach the song to her students. 

“I didn’t like the song and I didn’t like the words,” she explained. 

In April testimony submitted to the Oregon state legislature in support of the resolution, Shapiro said the proposed changes were “small but they are profound.” 

“Outdated, misleading and offensive words glorifying oppression and murder are replaced with inspiring words glorifying Oregon's natural beauty – majestic mountains, forests and rivers – as well as our love of freedom,” she added. 

Some of the lawmakers who opposed the resolution, including state Sen. Brian Boquist (I), said the measure promotes “revisionist history.” 

“If the state wants to adopt a new and different song then that is what they should do, not change an old song,” Boquist told the Times.