Tensions Mount in Newberg After Firing of Elementary School Assistant Who Came to Work in Blackface

“I feel segregated because I am unvaccinated,” Lauren Pefferle explained to a talk radio host.

blm flag A Black Lives Matter flag in Gresham became a flashpoint for protests in 2020. (Sam Gehrke)

The Newberg education assistant who showed up to school last week in blackface to protest the “segregation” of workplace vaccination mandates has become a flashpoint for racial and political tensions that simmered through the weekend at the gateway to Willamette Valley wine country.

Newberg Public Schools fired Lauren Pefferle on Sept. 24, Pamplin Media reported. The day before, Pefferle confirmed her actions in an interview with conservative talk radio host Lars Larson.

“I feel segregated,” Pefferle said, explaining why she arrived at Mabel Rush Elementary School on Sept. 17 wearing dark makeup on her face and arms. “I feel segregated because I am unvaccinated. Something is wrong here.”

Pefferle told Larson she explained to fellow school staff, “I’m representing Rosa Parks today regarding segregation.” But she denied to Larson that her protest was racist. “I did have darker skin makeup on my face and my hands, the parts of my body that were showing on my skin. I never once thought of the word blackface because I honestly do not even know that term. I don’t know what people mean by that. I don’t use that language.”

Other officials for the Newberg School District understood the racism that blackface represents.

“It is important to remember the terrible historical context of Blackface: how it has been used to misrepresent and demean Black communities, and how much harm and pain it continues to cause,” Newberg Superintendent Dr. Joe Morelock said in a statement. “This behavior represents violence and evokes trauma; it is beyond unacceptable.”

Pefferle’s actions and reported firing follow repeated racist incidents at Newberg High School, as well as the school board voting to ban Black LIves Matter and LGBTQ Pride flags. And Newberg’s statewide reputation as a cultural battleground sparked several demonstrations this weekend.

On Friday night, students at Tigard High School displayed Black Lives Matter and Pride messages in the stands of their high school football game against Newberg. On Sunday, a squad of Proud Boys arrived in Newberg—despite pleas from the school district for them to stay away.

“We have heard rumors of a Proud Boy gathering in Newberg on Sunday,” the district said in a statement. “We believe the presence of people from outside our community increases the tension and risk for harm in our town. We ask for calm, respect, and no outside influence in this time of heightened tension and attention.”

On Sunday afternoon, freelance journalist Sergio Olmos reported that a handful of Proud Boys stood on a street corner in Newberg—but were outnumbered by people carrying signs supporting racial justice and LGBTQ+ rights.

“It’s easy for everybody in every other small town in America to look at us and go, ‘Oh look, Newberg has all these problems,’” a counterdemonstrator told Olmos. “But quite frankly, if your not doing something to address the problem, it’s probably just as bad as where you are.”

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