Exciting Collection of Oral Histories Donated

By Janice Dilg

Who knew?  Judge Robert E. Jones, of course, knew of a collection of oral histories he had helped create, but it wasn’t until a recent meeting with the judge that he made this treasure trove known to me and the US District Court of Oregon Historical Society.  During the 1980s, Judge Jones created the nonprofit Oregon Court Historical Preservation Society for the purpose of collecting oral histories of justices of the Oregon Supreme Court and judges of the Oregon Court of Appeals. While he conducted some of the interviews himself, many were done by other parties during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Stained glass ceiling of the Oregon Supreme Court. Photo by M.O. Stevens
Stained glass ceiling of the Oregon Supreme Court. Photo by M.O. Stevens

This exciting collection includes narrators who played significant roles in Oregon’s judiciary over many decades. The list of oral histories includes: Justices Ralph Holman, Arno Denecke, Gordon Sloan, Jacob Tanzer, and Thomas Tongue, along with Judges Robert Foley, J. Virgil Langtry, and Robert Thornton. With the exceptions of Judge Tanzer and Judge Thornton, none of these individuals have oral histories in the USDCHS Oral History Collection. These recordings will enrich the roughly 180 oral histories already in the inventory.

The collection also contains recordings of a tribute to Judge Robert Belloni, and one intriguingly titled “John Day judges.” We don’t yet know what is contained in the recording “Columbia River 1934-1941,” but inquiring minds want to know. The collection includes a 1989 20th Anniversary Celebration of the Oregon Court of Appeals and several recordings related to Judge Jones’s career on the federal bench: investitures from Eugene and Portland in 1990, “Honors from the Bar,” and the judge’s portrait-hanging ceremony, to name a few.

The USDCHS Oral History Project has always been a collaborative endeavor with the Oregon Historical Society, which has the proper facilities to house and preserve the oral history recordings. This new collection has been deposited with OHS. They will process the collection, which entails digitizing original recordings made on VHS video tapes, reviewing and assessing the recordings that have already been reformatted to digital, and cataloging them. As this process proceeds, I’ll be working with OHS staff to review the recordings and create indexes of the oral histories to fill in the who, what, where, and when of the interviews.

There are ways USDCHS members can aid with the processing and use of this collection. For the oral histories to be made public and used, they need signed releases, which none of these interviews currently have. The interviewers are unknown, and we will need signed releases from them as well. Since most of the narrators are deceased, we will need to get permission from surviving family members. If you have contact information for any family members of the individuals listed here, if you were one of the interviewers, or you know who was an interviewer, please contact USDCHS Oral History Liaison Janice Dilg at jan@historybuilt.com or 503-735-5911.

As we learn more about this wonderful new collection of oral histories, I’ll keep USDCHS members apprised of what we learn about them. Once the collection is processed at OHS, I’ll be sure to let the membership know of additional ways they can help make this historical treasure accessible. I can’t wait to listen to these recordings, and make the content known to the USDCHS membership.