A “reality check” on Maine’s past and the future were the focus of tonight’s 39th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration who would have been 91 years old had he survived a bullet back in 1968. The organizer of the event and its facilitator was Rachel Talbot Ross, a state representative and the daughter of Gerald E. Talbot, the first African-American to be elected to the Maine legislature.
As he entered the lobby of the Holiday Inn by the Sea late this afternoon, Gerald E. Talbot and his grandson, Walter Phillips, were honored by a moving rendition of “We Shall Overcome.” Deirdre McClure, director of the Sea Change Chorale, spotted the two and interrupted the 45-minute concert already in progress to their appreciation.
But the tone of the evening changed dramatically once the concert ended and the celebration began inside the grand ballroom.
Although Maine is recognized as a state with a white population, it’s roots are deeply embedded in slavery said Dr. Kate McMahon, of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture. “What does it mean to be a Mainer on land stolen from Wabanaki tribes? We must begin to teach this history to our Maine students,” she said to a packed room of diners numbering over 700. Dr. McMahon and other esteemed speakers laid out the irrefutable case for how Mainers have marginalized and persecuted black people and indigenous tribes. “We have glossed over that history,” she said.
Following centuries of oppression, Chief Kirk Francis, head of the Penobscot Indian Nation, said there is a legislative attempt to restore rights to Wabanaki tribes. “We’re not going anywhere,” he said.
As diners were finally served their main course at 7:00 pm, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Me) told the diners: “This new Congress is the most diverse in the history of our country. There are over 100 women. It’s a very different place than before,” She added: “This is the worst administration in our lifetime because it is turning back the clock on racial, social and economic justice.” Pingree said we “have tried to increase funding to the tribes for health care, because that is a very big issue.”(See above left photo of Congresswoman Pingree).
Portland public school superintendent Xavier Botana has proposed that Riverton Elementary School be renamed to honor Gerald E Talbot, a civil rights icon as well.
Gerald E. Talbot said: ‘We are still looking and asking for peace for everyone.”
City manager Jon Jennings did not attend the dinner as well as most of the current cith council.
Less aggressive activists in the hallway pushing their agendas outside the celebration would have suited the occasion better.