Adelaide Solomon-Jordan, a historian of early New England African American biography and history, talks about her work and the book “The Escape of Oney Judge,” by Emily Arnold McCully last October at her home in western Maine. She often shares this true story with area children of a young woman who was a slave to George Washington and his family and who managed to escape slavery. Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times

Rumford area educator Adelaide Solomon-Jordan is a historian whose research includes early New England African American biography and history. She has also researched her own family history, beginning with her parents and other ancestors who came to the U.S. from Bermuda and the Grand Cayman Islands in the early 1900s.

Solomon-Jordan retired from her work in the local schools in 2020 but continues to volunteer and teach area students and others about Black history and the Black experience. She’s also a member of the Western Foothills Anti-Racism Education Advisory, based in Rumford, which provides educators and community members with a resource and blog space for addressing systemic racism.

She’s also known throughout the state for her knowledge and leadership. She serves as chair of the education committee for the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine and is a board representative for its Vision 2020 project created to honor Black and Brown Mainers. In March she was appointed to the Maine State Archives Advisory Board by Secretary of State Shenna Bellows for a three-year term.

Tell us a bit about your own family history and how and why your parents came to the U.S. and how they made their living. The Americana Lecture video  tells part of the story of my maternal family and explains my mother’s birth (1907-2008) and her coming to America as an 11-month-old infant. I was born in Connecticut of a Bermudian-born and Berkshires of Massachusetts-raised mother and Caymanian-born father. In Massachusetts my mother’s fraternal family dates to the 1730s, includes service in the Revolutionary War and Civil War, a named park honoring the family on the main street in Pittsfield, Mass., (which was given) a National Register designation.

My father (1902-1973) came to the United States as a 19-year-old, to live with his father’s youngest brother in Philadelphia. He was active in the IBPOE (International Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks) of the world, serving as grand exalted ruler.

We attended Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Stamford, Connecticut, where I was born. Both my parents were active in the church. My sisters and I attended Sunday school and I sang in the youth choir and was an officer in the youth group.

I graduated from high school in 1963 from the college preparatory tract. I was active in what we would call today social justice issues. I was a candidate for Miss NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). I did not win. It was a time and place where there was much civil rights activity, the early 1960s. There was also the presence of many families that had personal connections to the Holocaust and World War ll. Rietta Lieberman (former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman’s sister) was a classmate and friend. Jackie Robinson (baseball player) had moved his family to Stamford, not without racist attempts to prevent him from doing so, and he was active locally and nationally in civil rights activities.

So, early on I saw myself, with each of my parent’s personal histories and my activities as equal to any schoolmate, and certainly, while acutely aware of race, I take great pride in my ancestry, which includes having nationally and internationally known ancestors such as the late Natalie Cole, Franklin Grant (Baseball Hall of Fame) and through marriage a Tuskegee Airman, a boarding school founder Dr. Charlotte Hawkins and my late brother-in-law, Vernon Jordan Jr.

What kind of work have you done as a board member of the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine? My work on the board of HHRC includes serving as the chair of the education committee. Education about the Holocaust and human rights issues is the major focus of the center. I am also a board representative to the HHRC project, Vision 2020. This project has identified and will recognize Black and Brown heroes in Maine’s history, including predating statehood in 1820. I was also involved in a video created by HHRC on the experiences of students of color in Maine schools, K-12, from a racial perspective. One of the four former students was from RSU 10 (with schools in Rumford and Mexico) and one from RSU 56 (with schools in Dixfield and Peru).

You’re also a member of the Western Foothills Anti-Racism Education Advisory. What are some of the goals and activities of this group? Goals and activities of the group include hard discussions about local systemic racism. The website (www.westernmainearea.org) is a valuable resource for educational opportunities (and it includes) workshops, a blog, newsletter, (and input from the) Mountain Valley Civil Rights Team. A major goal of the group is to provide a weekly meeting space to address this longstanding history of race and racism and for community and school folks to discuss the hard issues surrounding local racism and how to address, educate and confront systemic racism.

Please give an example or two of some Black history lessons you’ve taught or informed others about. In your career as an educator, you taught Black history lessons to students at Rumford Elementary School. What brought about these lessons and why did you give the lessons? During a Monday check-in with a group of first-graders, the classroom teacher asked me if I wanted to talk about what I had done over the weekend. I told the children I had been to an educational event about African American history. I discussed the event, the children asked questions and following a discussion with the classroom teacher it was decided I would begin weekly sharing about the Black experience in America.

As these children moved up, I added a second grade and then a third grade to these discussions. At the end of each year, we had a parade through the school, celebrating the folks they had learned about. Some of their favorites included George Crum (developer of the potato chip), Katherine Johnson (human computer), Bessie Coleman (first African-American licensed pilot), the Tuskegee Airmen and such topics as black hair and segregated schools. We also talked about Ruby Bridges, who like them was about 6 years old when she integrated a school. We talk about how she might have felt, and how they felt.

My goal is to normalize this part of American history. African American history is American history, and over the years it has been the practice of United States education to ignore, eliminate or present a distorted picture of this history. This was an opportunity to have the children gain a more complete picture of American history.

My educational background is in both early childhood education and history, so it was a natural for me. However, recently states, and more recently school districts, have joined colleges and universities in establishing some form of African American history education. With colleges and universities, it is majors and departments of African American studies. That is the acknowledgement that the history of Africans in America is a valid but historically neglected area of study and degrees.

There is some irony in that Black churches, fraternal organizations and Black families have passed this history down over the years. I recall during the first presidential campaign of Barack Obama, Michelle Obama mentioned that enslaved people had built the White House and the Capitol. That night on the evening news white news reader after white news reader denied this. Later, after they had taken the time to do a more expansive search of our history, they discovered what I had learned at home growing up: People of African descent, both free and enslaved, built the White House and our national Capitol. It is a very interesting story and I encourage folks to search out this history. (For more: www.whitehousehistory.org/press-room/press-backgrounders/slavery-and-the-white-house)

You also started a social group for students of color at the elementary school. Can you describe a bit what that was like and why you think it was important for the students? Children of color are marginalized in United States schools, both public and private. This is true with regard to academics as well as socially. Their mental health is challenged. (For more go to: (kappanonline.org/racial-stress-black-students-anderson-saleem-huguley/) There is no real opportunity for them to share that which is a part of their history and who they are.

During these gatherings of children of color it is a time of individual and group pride. It was primarily a shared time of an activity that allowed the children to get to know each other as children of color. One of our activities was to color and clothe a body tracing. Using crayons and marking pencils, fabric swatches, stickers and glitter they created a version of themselves on brown paper. This helped reinforce their individual uniqueness as well as group identity. It was amazing to be a part of this activity over a number of weeks as children got to know each other and share this commonality of color. One white mom told the principal she wanted her child to know this part of who he was and was so happy that it was part of the curriculum.

Each week as I would go from classroom to classroom to gather the children, their classmates knew why I was there and would whisper to them it was time to go with Mrs. Jordan. This became a way for classmates to support this time. Before COVID I was looking forward to beginning an “invite a friend time” so they could once a month share with a non-African-descent friend, the story of being of African descent. We met once a week during Morning Meeting time for about 20 minutes.

What are some ideas of ways people can learn more about Black history and antiracism? Educating oneself about the history of Africans in America is as simple as picking a topic, adding “African American” and then using Google. One quickly learns there is absolutely not anything of any consequence in our history and daily lives that does not touch on the African American experience. How about some potato chips? George Crum. Space travel? Mae Jemison, Katherine Johnson. National Park Service? Buffalo Soldiers. Looking forward to summer fun? The super soaker (invented by) NASA engineer Lonnie Johnson. And the list goes on!

One point of recent pride we can all share is that our vice president, Kamala Harris, is a graduate of Howard University, an HBCU (historically black college and university). Howard University is named for one of the four white male founders, Oliver Otis Howard, a white man from Leeds, Maine.

Learning to be an antiracist is a personal challenge and requires making a commitment to interrupt racist behaviors that are usually unintentionally born into. Although many are able to get to a point of (some common ground) actually being able to confront those behaviors that deny the humanity of a person of color requires work many are not willing or able to do.

I recall when folks would get to a place where they would regularly write a check to the NAACP, but the checks would stop if there was any kind of public challenge to racism. Some folks would “allow” their children to have of-color playmates, but this would end when the children reached adolescence. Even today, some folks will argue that challenges to racism by Black folks demonstrates that an of-color person is racist. I have been called a racist. This demonstrates ignorance of the very definition of racism. Turned loose in a classroom, this is a threat to children of color and a reinforcement of white privilege for white children. What of the of-color child in their charge. I fear for that child but also the white child who will be reinforced in racist behaviors.

It is the power of whiteness, acted out in the too-often fatal behaviors of white people, that is racism. Black folks risk being harassed or attacked while just living their lives, walking home, jogging, bird watching, sitting in a school classroom, falling asleep in their college dorm lounge, driving an expensive car, announcing and then reaching for their gun carry permit, walking or running away from law enforcement and all those behaviors only now seen on phone video. This has raised the question of racism for other than folks of color. It is the privilege of whiteness that allows, and perhaps most often permits, behaviors that kill even children of color. It is Emmett Till over and over.

You ask how can white people learn “more” about Black history and antiracism. It is as simple and yet as complicated as looking at a person of color and seeing another human being.


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