Martha & Walter Anderson Memorial

Martha Anderson was a notable author and important part of history in Oregon. Her book Black Pioneers of the Northwest [phone redacted] details the lives of successful black Gold Rush muleskinners, laundresses, steamboat cooks, barbers, farmers, ranchers, and businessmen. It is an invaluable resource and used today as an important reference for more contemporary works on black history in the Pacific Northwest. She also wrote scripts for Seattle radio stations, frequent contributions in trade magazines, and other publications.

Martha was born and raised in Seattle in 1910. She met and married Walter Anderson, who became one of the only two successful black ranchers, along with his brother Oscar, in Harney County. Together they became very respected stock raisers.

Martha and Walter moved to Portland when Walter’s heart started failing in 1952, and Martha operated the Medley Hotel for black service men, who she said, “didn’t have any civil rights.” Sadly, after passing, both Martha and Walter were laid to rest in unmarked graves in the cemetery in Burns, OR. This is an ignominious end for such pioneers.

I am working with local residents of Harney County and a group, called RAD (Rural Alliance for Diversity) who’s goal is to encourage and promote diversity in rural areas. They are not able to fund both nicer, larger, headstones with name and dates of birth/death for Martha and Walter along with a memorial. They have committed $50 each ($100 total) for very basic headstones, but we would like to be able to raise funds for the nicer option, which can be done for $1400. RAD is also thoughtfully donating a copy of Martha’s book to the library in Burns and honoring her by starting a small free library with a plaque dedicated to Martha and books that support diversity. Our goal is to provide a more fitting memorial for the Andersons in the Burns cemetery.

This has become a personal mission for me as I am just learning of Martha’s story and am outraged that such an injustice has been a part of the very town I was born in and where my mother is buried. Please consider donating so that we can help correct this. Thank you!


Desiree Swearingen
Oregon, OR

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