Maine: An Encyclopedia

African Americans

were in Maine at least as early as 1736 when a church in York purchased a slave for its minister.

John Brown Russwurm was Bowdoin College‘s first black graduate, in 1826. The third black to graduate from an American college, he went on to become the co-founder and co-editor of the country’s first black newspaper, Freedom’s Journal.

A white resident of Maine, Oliver Otis Howard, Civil War General and Congressional Medal of Honor winner born in Leeds, founded the predominantly black Howard University in Washington, D. C. after the war.

James Healy (1830-1900), Bishop of Portland in 1875, was the first African American bishop of the Roman Catholic Church and the first African American ordained a Catholic priest.

Klan Members Pose in their Robes (courtesy Dennis McLaughlin)

Klan Members Pose

One of the more shameful episodes in Maine history is the treatment of the black residents of Malaga Island, in the New Meadows River just off Phippsburg.

The Ku Klux Klan was a political force in Maine in the 1920’s, opposing the rights of Catholics, Jews, and immigrants generally, in addition to African Americans.

In 1972 Gerald Talbot of Portland, whose family had been in Maine since the mid-eighteenth century, became the first African American elected to the Maine State Legislature. He served until 1978 and was also a member of the State Board of Education.

Abyssinian Meetinghouse (2015)

Abyssinian Meetinghouse @

Anchor of the Soul is a 1994 movie about African American history in northern New England told through the story of the Abyssinian Meeting House in Portland. Details about the significance of the Meeting House  are in the Portland Historic Register. More about the movie may be found on Youtube.

The 6,760 black residents of Maine*, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, constituted about one-half of one percent of the total population.  By 2010 that number and proportion had more than doubled to 15,707 and 1.2 percent (12.6 percent nationally).

*reporting “Black” or “African American,” in Maine: 2000, Census 2000 Profile, (accessed July 24, 2011); in 2010,

Additional resources

The African American Collection of Maine, Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity, University of Southern Maine, Library’s Special Collections.

The following are from Visible Black History at (accessed September 20, 2005).

Adams, Herbert, “African-Americans on The Steamship Portland,” Portland, Winterguide. 1998.

Barry, William David, “From the Collections: African-Americans and Maine,” Maine History, Vol. 38, No. 1, Summer 1998.

Barry, William David, ” The Shameful Story of Malaga Island,” Down East, November 1980.

Burrage, Henry S., “A Fugitive Slave Case in Maine, 1837-1841,” Maine Historical Memorials, 1922.

Champagne, Roger, with photography by Stephen O. Muskie, “Clarence Roberts: I Don’t Feel Color,” SALT, Winter 1982, Issue No. 19

Chiteenden, Elizabeth, “John Brown Russwurm/1799-1851: Bowdoin’s First Black Graduate,” Down East Magazine, June 1972.

Connolly, Michael C., “Black Fades to Green; Irish Labor Replaces Aftican-American Labor along a Major New England Waterfront, Portland, Maine, in the Mid-Nineteenth Century, ” Colby Quarterly 37 (December 2001).

Donaldson, Leigh, with interviews and photos by Diane Hudson, “The Prime of David Driscoll,” Portland Monthly, September, 2001.

Donaldson, Leigh, “The W.E.B. DuBois Files,” Portland Monthly, Summerguide, 2001

Dubrule, Deborah, “Evicted: How the State of Maine Destroyed a ‘Different’ Island Community,” Island Journal, Vol. 16.

Elliott, Rosy, with photography by Lynn Kippas, Jr., “I’m Singulah!”, Interview with John Gaskill, SALT, Winter, 1984, Issue No. 24

Frick, Jim, “On the Road with Wynton Marsalis,” Maine (University of Maine Alumni Magazine), Fall 1999. Article is about Nathan George.

H.E.H., “John Brown Russwurm, A Credit to Two Races,” Hebron Academy Semester Magazine, Fall, 1974.

Lumpkins, Charles L., “Civil Right Activism in Maine, 1945-1971,” Maine History, Vol. 36, Nos. 3-4, Winter-Spring. 1997.

Miller, Eben Simmons, “Resistance in ‘Pioneer Territory’: The Maine NAACP and the Pursuit of Fair Housing Legislation,” Maine History, Vol. 36, Nos. 3-4, Winter-Spring. 1997.

Parris, Percival J., Edited by Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr., “Pedro Tovookan Parris,” Old-Time New England, January-March, 1973.

Price, H.H., “Blacks in 19th-century Maine,” Maine Archives and Museums (MAM) Newsletter, Vol. 4, No. 4, November 2001

Price, H.H., “Genealogy shows blacks were early Mainers,” Maine Archives and Museums (MAM) Newsletter, Vol. 3, No.2, May 2000

Price, H.H., “Herbert Heughan ’40: He quietly paved the way for black men at UMaine,” Maine (University of Maine Alumni Magazine), Vol. 82, No. 2, Summer 2001.

Price, H.H., “Maine’s Black History Comes to Light,” Maine Archives and Museums (MAM) Newsletter, Vol. 2, No. 4, November 1999.

Price, H.H., “Maine’s black history documented through interviews,” Maine Archives and Museums (MAM) Newsletter, Vol. 3, No. 4, November 2000.

Price, H.H., “Maine blacks and the Maritime Provinces,” Maine Archives and Museums (MAM) Newsletter, Vol. 3, No. 3, August 2000.

Price, H.H.and Talbot, Gerald E., “Black Remains in Maine: Proof of Presence,” Maine Archives and Museums (MAM) Newsletter, Vol. 5, No.3, August 2002.

Sherrer, Geneva McAuley, photography by Heather Joy Lane, “Black Child of Maine, SALT, Winter 1984, Issue No. 24

Stakeman, Randolph, “The Black Population of Maine, 1764-1900,” New England Journal of Black Studies, No. 8, 1989.

Stakeman, Randolph, “Slavery in Colonial Maine,” Maine Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 2, Fall, 1987.

Talbot, Gerald E., “Black Sports in Maine’s Past,” Maine Archives and Museums (MAM) Newsletter, Vol. 5, No. 3, August 2002.

Talbot, Gerald E., contributions to “The Millennium Issue: Important Events in Maine’s History,” Portland, December 1999.

Terrison, E. Mark, Esq., “Macon Bolling Allen – A Milestone for Maine,” Maine Bar Journal, 2000.

Watson, Elwood, “William Burney and John Jenkins: A Tale of Maine’s Two African- American Mayors,” Maine History, Summer 2001.

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