About this time last year, I drove from Seattle down to the San Francisco Bay Area. As a photographer, I had to turn a twelve hour drive into 3 days for the sole purpose of taking pictures. After all, isn’t that the true meaning of, “All About the Journey”? To my surprise, my favorite place on the trip ended up being the Yaquina Bridge in Newport, which wasn’t on my original list of places to shoot.
In my travels, I came across the amazing story of Letitia Carson. She was born a slave in (circa 1814) in Kentucky. Not much is known about her early years, but somehow she ended up on the Oregon trail with white Irish Immigrant, David Carson. They married and had 2 children and homesteaded near Newport, Oregon. The state cut their 640 acre homestead down to 320 because they did not see her as a legal citizen. Later, after David’s death, wealthy neighbor Greenberry Smith took the remaining acreage claiming that a slave woman and her slave children could not own land. Undeterred, she sued, twice, and lost both times. Again, not giving up, she eventually was granted a new homestead of 160 acres where she raised her children as free people. (http://www.blackpast.org/aaw/carson-letitia-ca-1814-1888)
When I hear of these stories, I can’t help but go back to the beginning. What was it in her that gave her the courage to take that first step and buck the trends? Women in those days had no rights and it was nearly impossible for a slave to find freedom. Mrs. Carson not only found freedom, she married a white man, had two of his children, became a settler, homesteader and had the courage to fight for her rights until she won...as a single mom, no doubt. Talk about a journey in life!
Every night in Newport, fishing boats return after catching dungeness crab, shrimp and chinook salmon. California Sea Lions spend all day on the docks spitting on each other and barking at tourists. The streets are aligned with artsy shops, restaurants, bars and fishermen bragging about the “one that got away”. I stood there for a long time shooting this bridge, watching the boats come home as the sun set, smiling at the sea lions home and thinking about Mrs. Carson: Courage. Determination. Ambition. Pride. And all she wanted was her freedom just like the rest of us.
Newport is a great place for many reasons. You can relax on a big sandy beach, watch gray whales breach in the distance, tour the nearby haunted lighthouse and drink a pint in this fishing village while you catch your breath. It is the history of this woman’s journey that inspires me most about this place. Life is All About The Journey and it Starts Within.