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.