Harvey W. Scott: Alumni, Editor, Racist
Pacific University’s President Jenny Coyle has announced the renaming of the Forest Grove Campus building Scott Hall following a searing article describing the racism and bigotry of the building’s namesake published by The Oregonian. The building’s sign has already been changed to Pacific Hall, and the move, along with other administrative changes, signals President Coyle’s dedication to acknowledging and correcting racism in Pacific University’s past.
The building is central to the campus’ geography. It is named after Harvey W. Scott, the first Pacific University alumni (1863) and the editor of The Oregonian from 1866 to 1872.
First opened in 1969, Scott Hall started as the University Library before the library moved in 2005 to its current location, a hop, skip and jump away. Currently, Pacific/Scott Hall houses classrooms, the college’s art gallery and student services centers.
But this past October, the Oregonian published an unblinking and self-effacing article that indicted Scott for his racist attitudes, and for what they saw as the “disgusting” and “bigoted” history and legacy of Scott. That article quickly precipitated President Coyle to request that the Pacific University Board of Trustees meet and vote on renaming the building; they did so on December 3.
I applaud President Coyle for the swift action to rename the hall instead of waiting for years of protests like the University of Oregon did before renaming their own “Deady Hall.” Her actions came quickly, of her own volition, and not from any pressure. It is the right action, done in the right way.
Scott’s story began as an immigrant, finding his way to Puget Sound in the Washington Territory with his family, where he volunteered in the Puget Sound War(a part of the so-called “Indian War”) from 1855 to 1856. He served with local militias against the Nisqually, Muckleshoot, Puyallup, and Klickitat peoples. Voluntarily.
In view of Pacific’s historical connection to the Forest Grove Indian Training School, this guy seemed to align with Pacific’s ideology of “the only good Indian is a dead one” (Capt. Richard Pratt, 1892). This ideology justified Pacific’s support of the Indian training school.
But this is only the ugly tip of a much more menacing iceberg. In his time as the editor of The Oregonian, Scott added to the decades spent reinforcing the racial divide in Oregon, a state founded as a sort of whites-only paradise. Not only did the influential newspaper promote segregation, it celebrated laws that aimed to exclude Asian immigrants, opposed equal rights for women, excused lynching, and promoted the genocide of Native Americans.
In 1877, three years after male voters rejected women’s right to vote, Scott wrote, “It is a very simple matter for women of Oregon to get the suffrage if they want it; they have only to ask for it in earnest of the men.” Spoken like a true misogynist.
In 1905, albeit years after Scott’s tenure, but still based on the philosophical cornerstones that he helped lay, the editorial page supported segregation and justified it after the Oregon Supreme Court condoned Jim Crow-type laws implemented by the state. The paper claimed, “Colored people are wise who accept conditions that they cannot change or control, and go their way cheerfully, realizing that, after all, their condition in this country is much improved over that of their ancestors of a century or two ago.”
During Scott’s reign, the use of the “N-word” appeared in an average of 58 pieces per year—and, under Scott, The Oregonian employed racist language and perpetuated stereotypes in their stories, editorials, cartoons, and advertisements. They referred to a lynched Black man as a “brute” while a staff correspondent called the man a racist slur and praised the lynching.
Not surprisingly, a statue of Scott sitting on top of Mount Tabor in Portland was torn down by protesters in 2020.
Likewise, President Coyle’s fast action on the part of the Board of Trustees show that the current administration is dedicated to acknowledging racism in the university’s history and will work to correct past mistakes. Moreover, the administration seems to be taking steps into the future, as part of the ongoing administrative restructure of the Student Affairs unit is that the President’s Cabinet will be adding a Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (EDI). The former role of Chief EDI Coordinator was combined with the VP of Student Affairs position, but the separation of these roles signals President Coyle’s dedication to expanding the EDI office and forwarding its mission throughout the university. — Christian Mendoza Guerra