The University of Southern Maine’s African American Collection has unveiled the first of six new digital exhibitions, highlighting 200 years of families in Maine.

The first exhibit, “We Exist: Evidence of Maine’s Black Families from 1800 to the 20th Century,” specifically highlight images from the Gerald E. Talbot Collection, as well as others from the African American Collection, part of the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine, Special Collections, University of Southern Maine.

“We Exist” is the first in a series of six digital exhibitions on Black inhabitants in the state of Maine that seeks to tell their stories through a variety of institutions. This series focuses on the family. The Black family remains a favorite topic across academia and society at large due to continuing stigmatization. The concept that the Black family functions at a deficit has led in part to families being pushed to the margins of society, and at times being outright omitted from societal history and the historical record. Through photos, written, and audio interviews, “We Exist” transmits the stories of the lived experiences of Maine’s Black families.

“The exhibit (the first in the series) is important because we, as a university, get to showcase material we have relating to Black residents in Maine,” said Dr. Lance Gibbs, the exhibit’s curator and USM’s Talbot Fellow. “Historically, Black residents in Maine have had a myriad of myths attached to their existence, especially as they relate to their families and children; they have been labeled as mentally retarded and their children born with horns, and so on. These narratives were created by those in power and who were outside of the group. This exhibit presents and celebrates the lived experiences of Maine’s Black residents over this period, through their own voices, dispelling those long-held myths and beliefs of this very central group in the state.”

Lance Gibbs, Ph.D., is the curator of “We Exist.” Dr. Gibbs is a lecturer in Race and Ethnic Studies and is currently the director of the Race and Ethnics Studies program at the University of Southern Maine. Dr. Gibbs is also the Talbot Fellow for the Gerald E. Talbot and African American Collections. Dr. Gibbs’ research interests focus broadly on the family, particularly in father involvement/fathering/fatherhood among immigrant fathers from the African Diaspora.

The University of Southern Maine is a public university with 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students taking courses online and at campuses in Portland, Gorham and Lewiston-Auburn.


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