PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Fifteen miles south of Newport on the Oregon coast on the Alsea River and Alsea Bay is Waldport, a mecca for the outdoors. One of its important historical figures is a former slave named Louis Southworth.

On Saturday, November 19, the city of Waldport will unveil a statue of Louis Southworth and place it in a new park bearing his name. His amazing story is part of where we live.

Southworth, who was born into slavery in Tennessee in 1829, was known for playing the fiddle. His owner brought him to Oregon in 1853 when Blacks were banned from settling here on their own. Six years later, Oregon became a state and its constitution made it illegal for African-Americans to live here.

That didn’t stop Louis Southworth.

“He was embraced by a white settler community here in Waldport during a very divided and chaotic time in our community,” said Jesse Dolin with the Oregon Coast Visitors Association. “He actually was able to save up money gold prospecting and playing his fiddle to buy his own freedom. But what’s amazing is he also put some of that money towards buying a piece of land to donate to the city of Waldport to build their first schoolhouse.”

  • Sculptor Peter Helzer made this statue of Louis Southworth, which will be displayed in the Louis Southworth Park in Waldport by 2024 (City of Waldport)
  • The gravestone for Louis Southworth (City of Waldport)
  • An undated photo of Louis Southworth, who died in 1917 (City of Waldport)
  • Sculptor Peter Helzer works on a statue of Louis Southworth, to be displayed in Louis Southworth Park in Waldport (City of Waldport)
  • Jesse Dolin with the Oregon Coast Visitors Association holds a picture of Louis Southworth in the spot where the Louis Southworth Park will be built in Waldport by 2024 (City of Waldport)
  • Sculptor Peter Helzer works on a statue of Louis Southworth, to be displayed in Louis Southworth Park in Waldport (City of Waldport)
  • A sign for Waldport, Oregon (City of Waldport)
  • A rendering of Louis Southworth Park in Waldport, set for completion in 2024 (City of Waldport)

He was also on the school board, ran the town ferry, became known for his hunting skills, gave music and dance lessons. He also played the fiddle at civic events in Waldport.

“He was really an important person in our city’s history, in a lot of different ways,” Dolin said.

Renowned sculptor Peter Helzer just finished a life-sized bronze sculpture of Southworth to be placed in the new park. Helzer is a native Oregonian with ties to the coast.

“Chances are my ancestors knew Louis Southworth or knew of him,” Helzer said. He’s created sculptures all over Oregon, including of Ken Kesey and Rosa Parks, but he said this one is special.

“When I started hearing the details, I was, like, I have to do this. I mean this is more than a project. This is an honor,” he said.

Southworth died in 1917. His homestead was marked with a racial slur.

But the statue and the park will help preserve his story, a story that is both difficult to tell and inspiring.

The statue will be unveiled at the Alsea Bay Bridge Visitor Center and Museum and will be displayed there until the Louis Southworth Park is completed in 2024.