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Oregon state song updated to remove racist language

The music of "Oregon, My Oregon" is staying the same, but some controversial lyrics have been updated.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon Legislature has approved changes to the lyrics of Oregon's state song to remove racist language and make the lyrics more inclusive. 

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports House Concurrent Resolution 11 modifies the lyrics, while keeping the same music of "Oregon, My Oregon," to reflect the "significant cultural, historical, economic and societal evolution in Oregon" since the state song was adopted in 1927. 

The first verse, which referred to Oregon as "conquered and held by free men; fairest and the best," was replaced with new lyrics emphasizing Oregon's natural beauty and "rolling rivers."

The line, "Blest by the blood of martyrs" was also controversial and will now be sung, "blessed by the love of freedom."

The song "Oregon, My Oregon" was written in 1920 by John Andrew Buchanan and was the winning entry of a state song contest. 

“In the 1920s, not one person from the BIPOC community was allowed to submit songs and they weren't able to vote on the song,” said art activist Crystal Akins. At the time the song was written, Oregon was a "whites only" state, with exclusionary laws.

Atkins was one of those calling for changes to the song and in the fall of 2020 helped launch the Oregon State Song Contest, where everyone from kids to professional musicians could submit entries for a new state song. 

RELATED: 'Lyrics rooted in white supremacist sentiment': Lawmakers consider changing Oregon's state song

House Concurrent Resolution 11, passed Monday, aimed to rewrite the questionable lyrics while preserving the historical music. Rep. Sheri Schouten (Beaverton) was the resolution's sponsor. In February, she told KGW, "Rather than reinforcing racist history, we need a song Oregonians can be proud of and sing right away." 

Schouten’s resolution was in response to a years-long effort by Oregon musician Amy Donna Shapiro to modify the state song. She wrote the new lyrics to replace the controversial ones.

"I've been thinking about this song for 30 years because 30 years ago I had to teach it to some little children and I didn't like it," said Shapiro.

At the time, Shapiro was choir director at the Oregon Jewish Academy. Her group of fifth graders performed the song at the State Capitol for Children's Day. Over the years, Shapiro said she's heard from some of those same students, who thanked her for not giving up on her effort to modify the song.

"It just validates everything that I've been working for," said Shapiro. "I want students all over the state to be able to sing the song."

New lyrics of "Oregon, My Oregon"

"Land of Majestic Mountains,

Land of the Great Northwest; 

Forests and rolling rivers, 

Grandest and the best. 

Onward and upward ever, 

Forward and on, and on; 

Hail to thee, Land of Heroes, 

My Oregon. 

Land of the rose and sunshine 

Land of the summer’s breeze; 

Laden with health and vigor, 

Fresh from the Western seas. 

Blessed by the love of freedom, 

Land of the setting sun; 

Hail to thee, Land of Promise, 

My Oregon.”

RELATED: All classical Portland radio station honors minority composers

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