PORTLAND (AP) – University of Southern Maine historian Maureen Elgersman Lee has a long trail of hard work, passion and dedication in her wake.

In March, Elgersman Lee became the first black woman to be tenured at USM. But in her eyes, the occasion was less than historic.

“It does say a few things about the institution and the system,” she said. “But tenure is something that you have to prove, something you have to earn for yourself. The university won’t just give it to you because of your skin color.”

For the last six years, Elgersman Lee has been an assistant professor of history and faculty scholar for the USM African American Archives of Maine, where she has worked to uncover the hidden past of blacks throughout Maine-in places such as Bangor, Lewiston and the Portland area.

Her scholarship for the USM Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine has done much to shed light on the state’s undiscovered history. The Sampson center also includes collections on Franco-American heritage, Judaic history and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history.

“She’s a very confident, serious scholar, who brings a very strong academic confidence, not only to her work as a faculty member, but also as the scholar in residence at the African American Archives of Maine,” said Joseph Wood, provost and vice president of academic affairs for USM.

Elgersman Lee researched the slavery of black women in Canada and Jamaica before turning her talents to Maine’s African American heritage.

Elgersman Lee grew up as the third youngest in a family of 13 children in Ontario, Canada. She received a degree in French from Redeemer University College in Ontario and a master’s degree and doctorate in African American Studies from Clark Atlanta University, a historically black college in Georgia.

She said coming to USM after her graduation in 1997 was an easy decision because of the research she could undertake as the university’s faculty scholar for the relatively new African American Archives.

As faculty scholar for the African American Archives of Maine, Elgersman Lee has worked to bring recognition to the collection and increase its size and scope. Much of the collection was donated in 1995 by Gerald Talbot, who was elected Maine’s first black legislator in 1972 and later became president of the Portland Chapter of the NAACP.

The collection, which includes Talbot’s own papers and photographs and memoirs from his time in office, also includes busts of African American leaders, books written by famous black authors, and items such as shackles used on slave ships.

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