PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) – The Oregon Historical Society said it will reopen Wednesday just days after it was vandalized. Over the weekend, protesters damaged the building in a"Day of Rage" - breaking the glass windows and doors at the entrance, even taking a historical quilt on display.
Thirty squares make up the Afro-American Heritage Bicentennial Commemorative quilt that was put together in the 1970s, highlighting major milestones and important figures in African American history from the 1800s up through the civil rights movement.
It's been displayed at the Smithsonian, Harvard University and ultimately landing at the Oregon Historical Society.
"Equal rights, equal protection, what a radical concept. The right to vote," Sylvia Gates Carlisle said. "I think it shows some very, very impressive individuals who have left a significant legacy and really need to be included."
Fifteen Black women created the quilt, including 63-year-old Carlisle, the only one of those women who is still alive today. She was in college when she joined the project.
"I got voluntold. My mom was kind of the organizer for this," Carlisle said. "Mine was the fist for the emancipation proclamation."
Over the weekend, protesters broke the glass entrance to the OHS, and the quilt was taken. Luckily, it was recovered the next day not far from the OHS, but it was wet from being left out in the rain.
Carlisle said it was hard to believe the person who took the quilt didn't know what its significance was.
"It doesn't take a lot to figure out what the quilt was about. My square was clearly signaling what it was about. So, if someone says it was an accident, my response would be 'that dark brown fist didn't signal what it was about?'" Carlisle said.
This is what Carlisle said about the vandalism at the OHS building.
"If someone wants to criticize the museum's past? There's plenty of room for that," Carlisle said. "There are some other institutions that aren't trying, and that's another story. But I do give OHS credit for trying to fix the past to the ability they can now."
She said whether or not taking the quilt was an accident; it has no impact on the history the quilt reflects.
"Those women made significant contributions without the quilt. The quilt memorializes others who made significant contributions, and that won't change," Carlisle said. "Their legacy lives through, with, or without the quilt."
The OHS released a statement about the vandalism, which reads in part:
"We understand the significance and importance of the messages fueling the protests that have been taking place in our city and across the nation these past few months, as evidenced by much of our work during recent years. In 2019, we opened our new cornerstone exhibition, Experience Oregon, in collaboration with many community partners, including the nine federally recognized Tribes in Oregon, and the result demonstrates our commitment to telling honest Oregon history — the good, the bad, and the ugly. We dedicated the Winter 2019 issue of our journal, the Oregon Historical Quarterly, to the subject of "White Supremacy & Resistance," and in the Summer 2020 issue, we published articles specifically related to OHS' history as related to Indigenous leaders and belongings.
As we clean up broken glass, scrub paint, and make plans to ensure safety in our building, we also, as always, welcome critique of our work. We would be grateful to have constructive feedback from all those who are willing and able to aid OHS in fulfilling our vision of an Oregon story that is meaningful to all Oregonians.
The Oregon Historical Society is eager to safely welcome back visitors to its galleries this Wednesday, and again wants to thank the community for the outpouring of support it has received these past 48 hours in the form of calls, emails, new and renewed memberships, and donations."
They said the quilt has been taken off public display while they assess its care needs.
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