Posted on June 11, 2021

Oregon Removes Lyrics About ‘Empire Builders’ from State Song

Johnny Diaz, New York Times, June 9, 2021

Oregon lawmakers approved new lyrics for their state song this week, removing language that activists called racist and saying the song should reflect how Oregon has changed in the 94 years since it was adopted.

The resolution, which the State Senate passed 23-5 on Monday, preserves the music of the state song, “Oregon, My Oregon,” but changes the lyrics to reflect the “significant cultural, historical, economic and societal evolution in Oregon,” according to its text.

The modifications include swapping the first verse of the song, which was written by John A. Buchanan with music by Henry B. Murtagh. Its original lyrics when it was first adopted in 1927 included the lines, “land of empire builders, land of the golden West; conquered and held by free men; fairest and the best.” Those will be replaced by, “land of majestic mountains, land of the great Northwest; forests and rolling rivers, grandest and the best.”

Modified lyrics will also replace a section in the second verse, so that “blest by the blood of martyrs” becomes “blessed by the love of freedom.”


In the resolution, lawmakers put the proposal in context of “an active and ongoing national movement to secure truly equal treatment for peoples of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.”

Native people had lived in Oregon “from time immemorial,” the lawmakers wrote, and Black and Chinese people had “suffered from de jure exclusion in the early decades of Oregon’s statehood.”


“Oregonians of all backgrounds deserve an inclusive way to celebrate our great state in song,” the resolution said.

The new lyrics were proposed and written by Amy Donna Shapiro, a musician in Beaverton, Ore., who had been advocating changes to the song for years.


In testimony in support of the resolution, she wrote that the song’s original lyrics were “outdated, misleading and offensive words glorifying oppression and murder.”


Kim Stafford, Oregon’s poet laureate from 2018 to 2020, also supported the resolution.

In a letter to legislators in February, Mr. Stafford wrote that the state song “includes racist and exclusionary language from a more primitive time in our state’s history.”