Maine in the 1960s: 'There was a lot of racism'

PORTLAND — Maine wasn't like the south when it came to segregation and discrimination against blacks, Gerald Talbot, 79, former head of the NAACP for Maine, said.

You could get on a trolley or bus. There weren't sections reserved for whites or blacks, or signs on water fountains that read “Whites Only” or “Colored.”

But “there was a lot of racism, discrimination, prejudice in Maine,” Talbot said.

One of the biggest was being blocked to jobs. He grew up in Bangor. Talbot's father was a chef for the Bangor House. Blacks were hired in kitchens, in construction and as loggers.

“But we were shut out from a lot of jobs,” Talbot said. There were no black nurses, doctors, lawyer or firemen. Jobs blacks were qualified to do, “we weren't allowed to do.”

After graduating from Bangor High School, Talbot worked for the Bangor House like his father. Looking for a better job, he moved to Portland “under the impression things were better.” They weren't, he said.

The white community wanted everyone to think there was no discrimination,” Talbot said of the 1960s. There were few blacks in Maine, less than one percent of the population.

As the Freedom Riders were arrested in the south, as Jim Crow law protesters were beaten, sprayed with firehoses and arrested, some moved to Maine, Talbot said. He welcomed and helped them.

Eventually, the civil rights movement made its way into Maine. Talbot revived and led the NAACP in Portland. “We've built on it ever since.”

In 1972 he became the first black in Maine to be elected to the House of Representatives. One of the bills he sponsored was removing the word “nigger” from maps.

“There used to be a 'Nigger Pond,' 'Nigger River,' 'Nigger Hill'” in Maine, Talbolt said. The bill passed. Those names had to be changed, he said.

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Beth Wing's picture

As a Dem myself Tony, IF

As a Dem myself Tony, IF Obama isn't a natural born AMERICAN then no he isn't qualified. America has never had to question a presidents citizenship period, what does this have to do with Maine??

Do African Americans not laugh at white people jokes??? Come on...if it's funny even I laugh. Ever seen Dave Chapelle do his impression of a white guy? HYSTERICAL!

Terry, I personally am friends with a Somali woman who is employed at CMMC. She and her family dont get along because she is with a white man...she wont date a Somali man, her reason "They don't work..." Behind myths are grains of truths.

Personally as an AMERICAN I get offended when people don't speak English, it's rude and called mannors. This started long before the influx of Somalis with my French family, nothing to do with race. If I travel abroad, I better speak the language or I will offend. Period, call it whatever you want.

ANTHONY NAZAR's picture

Was?

While overt racism, like the use of "Nigger" on maps may be gone, racism lives on just beneath the surface. It's not the use of place names anymore, it's attitude.

Homosapien redneckus is alive and well in Maine. His grandfather's white sheet is carefully folded up and put away in the back of the drawer, but the same racist jokes that made his grandfather laugh make him laugh and the same reflex reaction his grandfather had on seeing an African American still makes him think the word he now denies.

Ask, as I do, those who believe President Obama is somehow not qualified to be President whether he'd make the same statements were the man in the White House Bob O'Brien and a Caucasian and the denial is quick - I'm not a racist. Follow up your question with another, "I don't know, are you?"

 's picture

Still is

Truth be told, not much as changed. If we all open our eyes to the daily racism around the state, perhaps it would be a first step to ending it. Just look at our home grown retail outlets, tell me how many faces of color you see worjing there as you go about your bargain hunting at those stores. How many times do you hear people talk down about recent immigrants, how "they" have ruined your city, your neighborhood, your state. How many times do you hear people talk about how "they" take our tax dollars through welfare. How many lies and myths have your heard about busloads coming for welfare, or the welfare recipient wit a nice car, and license platers that read "u bot it". All those stories myths and lies, we are teaching our children to continue the racism, please lets top it now!

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