Series 2: Maine's Black Residents and Civil Rights Activism

Series 2: Maine's Black Residents and Civil Rights Activism


“We Exist: Maine’s Black Residents and Civil Rights Activism” is the second of a six-part digital exhibit series. For the purpose of this series, activism is described as any individual or community effort to bring awareness to issues that can promote changes in the political, economic, and social lives of African American people, as well as actions taken by those who are seeking fair treatment and equitable access to resources[1, 2]. The exhibit is comprised of photos, written transcripts, and audio interview clips from the Gerald E. Talbot and African American Collections. The exhibit centers on Black families and individuals in the state of Maine and seeks to tell their stories of how they engaged in various Civil Rights moments.

Images, stories, and examples of the Black family have always inspired and mobilized African Americans in individual and collective efforts, in their pursuit for racial equality and social justice.[3] It is noteworthy that when we speak of the Black family, we include not only mothers and fathers and children, but also grandparents, extended relatives, and other adults in the community.[4] Multiple variables such as racial centrality, psychological empowerment, and activism each significantly influence activist behavior among African Americans across different organizations, for example, church groups, African American fraternal organizations, and assemblies such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).[5]

The current exhibit takes its cue from Gerald Talbot’s involvement in civil rights activism and focuses on Maine’s Black residents’ efforts to create an environment conducive to dynamic activism across different Civil Rights organization.[6] Maine’s Black residents demonstrate an intentional effort to bring the immediate family and wider community into the fight for racial justice where Civil Rights participation is observed mainly through connections to events and notable figures in the Civil Rights movement.

While Black men and Black women have been at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement [7,8,9], it is not surprising to find Black residents integrating households, including children, and the wider community into various aspects of Civil Rights (for e.g. hosting meetings with Civil Rights groups; attending protest marches). Black children’s active participation in Civil Rights have been embedded in Black families as Black families have had to live with the terrifying reality of what Black childhood means in America.[10,11,12] Despite the bleak presentation of Black families during the Civil Rights movement by some authors [13] and the continued stigmatization of Black families,[14,15,16] it makes sense that the Black family as a whole sought at any given chance to engage with moments in Civil Rights quite possibly as a way to demonstrate that the Black family does not function at a deficit.[17,18] We hope that these photos, written word, and audio add to our quest to adequately examine the nuances of the Civil Rights movement.

The exhibit consists of three focal galleries. The first gallery consists of photos which capture Black inhabitants in Maine participating in various civil rights moments, broadly defined. The second and third galleries consist of interview quotes and selected audio recording clips from the oral history project "’Home Is Where I Make It’: African American Community and Activism in Greater Portland, Maine". The visual and audio presentations will help those with certain disabilities who are interested in the exhibit to actively participate. Next, the use of multiple sources (photos; written word; audio) helps to support observable results regarding Black families in Maine and their participation in various civil rights activities. The quotes and audio clips are representations of how Maine’s Black residents make the decision to participate in activism and descriptions of how Maine’s Black residents actually participate in activism.

We are indebted to our partners at the Osher Map Library (OML), University of Southern Maine (USM) Special Collections, and University of Southern Maine Libraries for their support in digitizing and building the exhibit site. This site was built by USM Libraries Digital Commons and Digital Projects and OML staff members: Mary Holt (Digital Projects Manager) coordinator for the USM Digital Commons and assisted with construction and organization of the exhibit; Carrie Bell-Hoerth (Library Specialist in Digital Projects and Access Services with USM Libraries) who assisted with construction and organization of the exhibit; Nora Ibrahim (Digital Imaging Assistant with the OML and Smith Center for Cartographic Education) assisted with photographing the Talbot Collection and many of the images featured in the exhibit; Elizabeth Chartrand (Digital Projects Assistant with USM Libraries) assisted with uploading images for the exhibit; Shiloh Parker (Administrative Specialist with USM Libraries) assisted with graphics and marketing; Special thanks and gratitude are in order for Susie Bock (Coordinator of USM Special Collections and Director of the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine) David Nutty (Director of Libraries and University Librarian), and Dr. Libby Bischof, Executive Director of the OML. Dr. Lance Gibbs served as the research lead for the project, providing historical background from news and scholarly references, and authoring the short contextual catalogue essay entries which complement the photos, written, and audio galleries.

We hope the digital exhibit transmits to a wide and diverse audience who may not have otherwise engaged with this aspect of Maine’s history. Also, we hope the exhibit serves as a guide for other institutions to follow that want to engage in the larger discussion on Black inhabitants relaying their histories through their own voices.

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Browse the Series 2: Maine's Black Residents and Civil Rights Activism Collections:

We Exist Series 2: Photos

We Exist Series 2: Quotes

We Exist Series 2: Audio Recordings