Black history month was celebrated at Scarborough Public Library with two presentations, the first a documentary involving Somali refugees in Lewiston and the second a discussion on African Americans in Bangor.
Matthew Ward, a retired foreign service officer and former director of the refugee resettlement program at Catholic Charities, introduced the documentary entitled “The Letter.” He explained that, under international law, refugees are usually people forced to leave their country because of persecution and that there are, at present, 24 million people in refugee camps worldwide, awaiting a new home.
The film, produced in 2004, and directed by Ziad H. Hamzeh, tells the story of a letter written by Lewiston Mayor Larry Raymond protesting that too many Somalis have been settled in Lewiston, including both refugees, who have no say as to where they will be sent when they first arrive in the United States, and immigrants, who might have been refugees upon arrival in the States but who, after six months, are on there own and often choose to move to a city where other Somalis have gathered, where French is spoken and where help is available to find jobs and housing. Raymond was afraid the social services in his city were being overwhelmed and the arrival of the World Church of the Creator, an organization promoting racial hatred, would lead to demonstrations and even riots. Fortunately, calmer heads prevailed and many Lewiston natives organized counter demonstrations to show their support of the Somalis. As one review of the film in the New York Times said, “there is something particularly thrilling about the sight of white Mainers, bundled up against the New England snows, happily swaying and shouting the word ‘freedom’ to the beat of an African drum.”
The second program introduced Maureen Elgersman Lee, professor of history at USM, who brought with her many fascinating slides showing portraits of black residents of Bangor. Although blacks have lived in Bangor since the 1790s, Ms. Lee has concentrated much of her research on the U.S. Census of 1930 when there were 228 blacks in Bangor, the high point of black population. This census published for the first time many details concerning the population, such as the value of the home, was it rented or owned, the number and age of occupants, occupations, etc. She also consulted obituaries, city directories and insurance maps and often was able to interview descendants of families who have lived in Bangor for many generations.
One of her photos was of a charming little girl, beautifully dressed and clutching a small doll – the doll is now in a Bangor Museum. Another photo was of a group of well-dressed women, a joint meeting of the Mother’s Club and the Junior Mother’s Club at a Christmas tree party. The organizations were founded in 1910. Although no records or minutes were kept, by all accounts, it was a dynamic group that promoted family values. An exhibit on Black Bangor, by Professor Lee is on display at USM’s Glickman Family Library through April.
“Ice the Old-Fashioned Way” was the title of Margery Fancy’s program at the February meeting of the Scarborough Historical Society. Many in the audience remembered that, before the age of refrigerators, food was kept cold in an ice box that had a tray underneath to catch the water dripping off the block of ice in its compartment at the top of the box. Woe unto the child who forgot to empty the tray every day!
We also remembered putting a card in the window so that the iceman, coming down the street in his wagon, would know how much ice to bring to the house. And we remembered what fun it was to chase the ice wagon and pick up the chips of ice that fell to the street – a refreshing treat on a hot summer’s day, and it was free!
Two films were shown. The first, “The Ice Man Stayeth or Mr. Thompson’s Frozen Asset,” was produced by the Lincoln County Historical Society and demonstrated by means of color slides how ice was harvested in South Bristol in the early 1900s. The second was “An Ice Harvesting Samplar” by Northeast Historic Films, in black and white. Both films captured the whole process – from cutting the ice with a circular saw, to guiding the great blocks of ice through the water to the conveyor belt that then carried them up into the storage barns where they were arranged in even rows and covered with saw dust until needed in the spring. Amazingly enough, ice was shipped by boat from Maine to the West Indies and even as far as India and China, and of course, until refrigerated trucks were invented, it was used to transport lobsters and fresh fish from Maine all down the east coast to the markets in Boston and New York City.
The Moosepath League
The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at USM sponsored the second annual One Book – One Community event in late February. Participants read “Cordelia Underwood or the Marvelous Beginnings of the Moosepath League” by Van Reid, a local author. A New York Times notable book, the Christian Science Monitor called it “an old-fashioned tall tale with a collection of eccentric Yankees.” I called it a great read, funny, suspenseful, and full of characters I cared about.
Much of the action takes place in Portland in July of 1896, but also we follow the characters down the coast, visiting Freeport, Wiscasset, Boothbay Harbor, Bangor and even Millinocket! Plus, who could resist finding out about the Moosepath League?
Van Reid was our keynote speaker, and he described how he wrote the book as a serial that was published week-by-week in the Lincoln County Weekly newspaper from April of 1995 until July of 1997. Customers would come into the Damariscotta bookstore where Reid worked at the time to try to find out what would happen next. Sometimes, the author had to admit, he didn’t really know!
After we all enjoyed Mr. Reid’s presentation, we broke up into small groups for two more sessions, choosing from spending more time with the author, to an “Armchair Tour of the Old Port” by Lynn Reese from Greater Portland Landmarks, to “Historic Portland and Its Artists” with Mary Karatsanos, docent at the Portland Museum of Art, to “Portland’s Ever-Changing Harbor” with Historian Jim Millinger. Finally, lunch in the college cafeteria allowed us to talk it all over and to have Van Reid personally autograph his books.