Zachary Stocks, Oregon Black Pioneers executive director, cuts a ceremonial ribbon during Saturday's Shipley Family Homestead historical marker dedication. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Plymouth community near Philomath lost a respected and industrious individual named Reuben Shipley on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 1872, after falling ill suddenly “with a fit of paralysis.” Those details from a long-ago newspaper article also mentioned that the man was familiarly known as “Reub” around the region.

Mary Jane Shipley, who had been his wife since 1857, survived him, eventually remarried and would go on to a long life well into the next century. Their stories are full of hardship from their early years as slaves to incredible accomplishments and contributions, including the donation of two acres of land in 1861 to establish Mount Union Cemetery.

It’s been 150 years since Reuben Shipley’s death and on Saturday morning at Newton Creek Park, located across town near Main Street on the eastern edge of Philomath, a dedication event took place and the Shipleys’ story is now more visible than ever with the placement of a new historical marker.

“It’s a moving tribute to some early Black homesteaders of Benton County,” Zachary Stocks, executive director of Oregon Black Pioneers, said after cutting a ceremonial ribbon to welcome the marker to Philomath. “It’s a great opportunity to finally see that their stories are being told on the same level as other important community figures of the pioneer era.”

Facing James Street, the new historical marker is entitled, “Shipley Family Homestead: Creating a Resting Place for All.” A crowd of approximately 150 people were on hand for the program.

“This whole marker process has taken more than a year,” Stocks said. “So it’s really powerful to get to be here today.”

Jason Dorsette, president of the Linn-Benton NAACP, talks to the crowd near the beginning of Saturday morning’s dedication event. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Jason Dorsette, president of the Linn-Benton chapter of NAACP, said the Shipley family’s story represents an unwavering dedication to humanity, equality and community.

“For all practical purposes, in my opinion, the Shipleys should be revered as modern-day civil rights leaders and freedom fighters,” Dorsette said. “It’s their stories and leaders such as the Shipleys whose shoulders I stand on today … to continue to fuel our efforts and passions and desires toward justice for all.”

Stocks provided the history of the Shipley family, including their stories of freedom and how Reuben Shipley donated land to establish the cemetery.

“When I reflect on the story, I’m always struck by the determination of both Reuben and Mary Jane time and time again,” Stocks said. “And despite hardships they shouldn’t have had to endure, they survived and even thrived here in Oregon.”

 On a personal level, Stocks finds inspiration from those before him.

“I always feel very inspired by the experiences of Black individuals who came to Oregon at a time when it was legal or illegal — depending on which year — just to be in Oregon,” Stocks said afterward in an interview. “So I try to think of the lessons we can learn from their example and do my best to live those out.”

Roger Blaine of Bahá’í Faith of Linn and Benton counties talks about the community collaborative effort that led to the marker. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Roger Blaine, representative of the Bahá’í Faith of Linn and Benton Counties, which submitted the application in 2015 for the historical marker to honor the Shipleys, was also a speaker at the program.

“From its beginning, the Bahá’í Faith has had three distinguishing characteristics,” Blaine said. “The first of these is holding fast to the oneness of humankind — that we’re all equal, regardless of skin color, gender and religion. The second is collaboration with others of goodwill to create a better community. And thirdly, personal service to others. 

“The Shipley marker that we’re dedicating today on the 150th anniversary of Reuben Shipley’s passing demonstrates all three of these characteristics,” he added.

Alex Johnson, Albany mayor and president of Oregon League of Black Cities, shares some of his life experiences. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Alex Johnson, Albany mayor and president of the Oregon League of Black Cities, shared his life experiences, which included “very interesting, challenging times” as he put it. Johnson, who moved to Oregon in 1994, mentioned various stages of his life with the message, “my story is one of you can do anything.”

Jessica Andrade, city councilor who is also the chair of the city’s Inclusivity Committee, thanked everyone involved with the project to memorialize the Shipleys.

“We hope this is just a first step in our city’s efforts to honor our diverse, vibrant and sometimes difficult past,” Andrade said. “Many community members have shaped this area for centuries and their stories are far too often left untold. It is our hope that telling these stories will give a more complete picture of our community’s past and offer a guide for our future.”

Jessica Andrade, Philomath city councilor who also chairs the city’s Inclusivity Committee, talks during Saturday’s event. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Bob Garcia of the Oregon Travel Information Council and chair of the Historical Marker Committee provided an overview of his organization’s work.

“The mission of the historical markers program today is to inform the public, statewide or nationally significant historical or geological events through the placement of markers,” Garcia said. “We have over 100 markers in all corners of the state, including nearby markers at Philomath College, Camp Adair, Brownsville and the Grande Ronde Indian Reservation.”

The program also included the vocal talents of Marilyn Keller, who sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — which is known as the “Black National Anthem,” and later to close the event, “Amazing Grace.” Leading up to her second number, Keller provided an overview of the transformational history of composer John Newton, an English poet and Anglican clergyman who wrote the song’s words in 1772.

Vocalist Marilyn Keller sings “Lift Every Voice and Sing” while the crowd listens. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

At Mount Union Cemetery, Reuben is buried under the surname “Ficklin” and Mary Jane’s marker shows Drake, which was her surname after remarrying following Reuben’s death. Earlier this year, the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a bronze plaque at the grave site that provides information and identifies the burial site for visitors.

In the coming days, a local artist is installing a new archway at the entrance to the cemetery, which for many years was also commonly known in the community as Newton Cemetery.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.