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Black Bangor
African Americans in a Maine Community, 1880-1950
Maureen Lee



Revisiting New England

University of New Hampshire Press
2005 • 200 pp. 36 illus. 6 x 9"
African-American Studies / Maine

$22.00 Paperback, 978-1-58465-499-5



“An important addition to our understanding of minorities in Maine and how they fared. Blacks... have been nearly invisible in recountings of the state's past... Lee has brought this small group to the fore in one city, showing how its members participated in economic life while preserving a sense of their own community.” —Bangor Daily News

A vivid reconstruction of a once-vibrant African American community in northern New England.

Blacks have lived and worked in Maine as early as the seventeenth century, but historically have constituted less than one percent of Maine’s population. Probably for this reason, books on Blacks in New England have largely ignored the experience of African American Mainers. Black Bangor is the first major published study of a Black community in Maine.

This tightly woven case study examines the African American community in Bangor during its heyday, 1880–1950, the period that saw an unprecedented migration of Blacks to that city. Blacks migrated to Bangor not just from other New England states, but from the Caribbean and Canadian Maritime Provinces as well, creating a heterogeneous community with roots in two hemispheres. Constituting an “ultraminority” in Bangor (according to the census, Blacks never numbered more than 300 souls during this period), this diverse community nonetheless came together to establish an impressive range of institutions, including local chapters of the NAACP and Odd Fellows, as well as of Mothers and Junior Mothers Clubs. Concentrated in an area known as the Parker Street neighborhood, Black women in Bangor became domestics and cooks, caterers and beauticians, clerks and stenographers. Men worked as loggers, teamsters, porters, chefs, and barbers; a few owned businesses.

Organized thematically, with sections on migration, labor, daily life, and community, Black Bangor’s topics include not just migration patterns, work, and religious and cultural organizations, but also African American homes, furniture, clothing, and foodways. Elgersman Lee also examines race relations and depictions of Blacks in the local media, and draws comparisons between the experiences of Bangor’s African American population and those of Blacks in other New England cities.

This fascinating and exhaustive study will appeal to anyone from Maine, as well as those interested in African American history and the rich texture of the region’s cultural life.

Click here for TABLE OF CONTENTS

Reviews:

“As the black population declined due to out-migration after World War II, most of those institutions disbanded, and a number of the community's landmarks, including the Bijou Theatre, Union Station, and Penobscot Exchange Hotel, were demolished for urban renewal projects, while the Masonic Hall was destroyed by fire. By 1950, Lee writes, ''the golden age that was Black Bangor" had ended, nevertheless leaving memories of what a small community could produce.” —Boston Globe

“While this is a solid academic study, I feel obliged to say that it also speaks clearly to general readers and students. That is a crucial point, because this pioneering study opens the curtain on individuals and a community within a community that has been largely unstudied and unacknowledged, in spite of real contributions. The obstacles and mechanics of living daily life in a community within a community have seldom been so well-expressed. Furthermore, Bangor becomes a case study to be compared and contrasted with black life in other small New England communities.”—Maine Sunday Telegram

“Rich in information and detail, and offering focused rather than wide-ranging analyses and interpretations, Black Bangor... enhance[s] our historical knowledge and understanding of... Maine communities as well as of the statewide and regional context in which those communities evolved.”The New England Quarterly

Awards/Recognition:

AAUP's "The Best of the Beset from the University Presses: Books You Should Know About" 2006
Certificate of Merit from the American Association of State and Local History 2006


MAUREEN ELGERSMAN LEE is Associate Professor of History and Faculty Scholar, African American Collection of Maine, at the University of Southern Maine. She has served as curator for several exhibits on African American history in Maine at the University of Southern Maine, Lewiston-Auburn College, and Bangor Public Library.






Thu, 23 Oct 2014 12:31:49 -0500