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Oregon State Song Loses Words 'From a More Primitive Time'

Praise for 'empire builders' replaced with praise for state's natural beauty
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 10, 2021 3:53 AM CDT

(Newser) – Oregon's little-known state song has new lyrics and might be getting a new lease on life. The Oregon Legislature has approved updates that remove language considered outdated and racist, including references to "empire builders" and a land "conquered and held by free men," the New York Times reports. The changes were proposed by Beaverton resident Amy Shapiro. "Outdated, misleading, and offensive words glorifying oppression and murder are replaced with inspiring words glorifying Oregon’s natural beauty—majestic mountains, forests and rivers—as well as our love of freedom," testified Shapiro, a musician and former choir director, per the Oregonian.

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Kim Stafford, the state's poet laureate from 2018 to 2020, also submitted testimony in favor of changing the lyrics, saying the old version includes "racist and exclusionary language from a more primitive time in our state’s history." The original song was adopted in 1927—the year after the state finally removed the last of its Black exclusion laws from its constitution. The song is rarely heard in Oregon, but Shapiro hopes that will now change. "It needed to be changed or no one was going to keep singing it,” she tells the Oregonian. “If we do it this way, people will love it and sing it. We’re not erasing history, we’re saving history." (Last month, Maryland ditched a state song that referred to Abraham Lincoln as a "despot" and Union soldiers as "Northern scum.")

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