Why is Clackamas County so White?

Clackamas County, Oregon, is an environmentally and economically diverse place. A day’s drive through Clackamas County could traverse quiet streets through wooded suburbs, a state highway bordered by shopping centers and industrial parks, country roads past farms and orchards, and service roads through the Mt. Hood National Forest, among many other places where people live and work.

Along the Willamette River in proximity to the Portland metropolitan area, the county’s first major 19th-century settlements, Oregon City and Milwaukie, are now mid-sized cities which retain their historical roots in industry and agriculture. Along the Clackamas River and Bull Run waterways, roads and rail serving the lumber industry and hydroelectric projects fortified the development of Estacada, Sandy, and many of the county’s smaller villages and hamlets during the 20th century. The Willamette Valley was and is home to farming towns and unincorporated communities which have responded to over 150 years of population, economic, and political change. In the Tualatin Valley west of the Willamette, discovery of iron ore in the early 20th century led to the residential development of Lake Oswego, now Clackamas County’s largest city.

The county’s diverse land uses and developments have expanded and contracted over time in response to changing economic, social, and political environments, but despite decades of growth across a varied landscape, the county’s population remains (according to the 2010 census) 91% white. Recognizing that the small percentage of people of color in Clackamas County are at the greatest risk of losing access to affordable housing, we posed the historical question: Why is Clackamas County so white?

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