The manila folder titled “African Americans” at the Clatsop County Heritage Center is millimeters thick, attesting to the decidedly monochromatic populace.
But among the more notable early black residents were an actress, a local oyster proprietor and possibly the first elected black officeholder in Oregon.
Gearhart was home to the first black man to hold public office in Oregon, according to the book “Gearhart Remembered” by the Gearhart Homeowners Association.
A railway conductor from Cedarville, Iowa, William Samuel Badger arrived with his wife, Emma Badger, in what was then Gearhart Park in 1915.
“No one would sell anything in Gearhart to a black man, so he went across the road onto county land, and he bought a two-wheel cart,” said James Whitcomb Brougher Jr., an area resident at the time describing Badger’s self-powered buggy for transporting passengers from the station.
In 1922, Badger ran unsuccessfully for Gearhart City Council, during the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan. He lost, but ran again and was elected in 1934 and 1936.
From the 1920s into the ’40s, according to the book, Badger serviced local roads, maintained properties and ran vacation cabins, renting to white visitors until the Public Accommodations Bill in 1953 desegregated businesses in Oregon.
According to his 1953 obituary for William Badger in the Seaside Signal, the couple ran Badger’s Chicken Dinner Inn for 17 years near Gearhart Junction. At the county heritage center, attached to a sign for Badger’s, was another for a nearby all-white restaurant, the White Way, opened seemingly in protest by Clifford Johnson.
Plenty set Rosa Lemberg apart in early 20th century Astoria. According to “Rosalia,” a book on her life by author Arvo Lindewall, Lemberg was born Rosa Emilia Clay in 1875, the illegitimate daughter of an Arabian-Namibian woman and a vice governor of British southwest Africa.
Raised in a Finnish missionary school in Namibia as a child, Lemberg immigrated as a teenager to Finland, where she became one of itss first African-born citizens, before immigrating to New York City in 1904. She married a traveling theater director, Lauri Lemberg, and moved to Ironwood, Michigan, and then Astoria’s Finn Town in the 1910s.
Her husband eventually left for another job in California, and Rosa Lemberg, by then with a daughter, Mirja, and son, Orvo, became the drama and choir director for the Astoria Finnish Socialist Club.
In his book on the history of Finnish community halls, Reino Hannula mentioned Rosa Lemberg living in Astoria in 1915 as the club’s theater director. He credited her “with the tremendous influence that the little theatre had on the West Coast Finns.”
After being offered a teaching job for $85 a month — twice what she made in Astoria — Rosa Lemberg left Astoria for Washington. She eventually settled in the Great Lakes region, died and was buried in Covington, Michigan, in 1959.
Badger wasn’t the first black entrepreneur in the county.
Roscoe Lee Dixon operated Roscoe’s Oyster House in Astoria into the 1880s.
Dixon was born in Virginia in 1843, according to an interview in 1974 with his daughters, Mabel and Myrtle Flowers, by Washington State University researchers for the Black Oral History Collection.
He eventually left on the Underground Railroad to Bedford, Massachusetts, before moving to Oregon, then Astoria, where he was listed in an 1880 census as a single restaurant-keeper. According to the Oregon Historical Society, Dixon eventually married Theresa Antoinette Townes.
“I think there was a hotel in conjunction with this oyster house, and on his ledger were the names of many prominent men,” one of the Flowers sisters said in the interview, adding the hotel served members of the powerful British commodities firm, Balfour, Guthrie & Co.
“My father lost his business because the railroad … headquarters did not come to Astoria,” she said. “I understand many people went broke at that time. And so then he went to Seattle.”
By 1890, Dixon had moved to Seattle, where he died in 1916.