The Working Waterfront

Our readers write—Racism, sexism, and the joy of libraries

Staff
Posted 2022-05-13
Last Modified 2022-05-17

Racism heritage

To the editor:

Thanks very much for your article on our heritage (“Maine’s not-so-clean history on race,” May issue). Having lived away in Denver for more than 30 years, I was sad to be labeled a PFA (person from away) by a local here in Eastport.

Although the vast majority of people here have been warm and welcoming, being labeled anything is hurtful. It serves to remind me that so many others have been dealing with discrimination for their entire lives. How sad for the sources of bigotry.

I will be even more diligent in my awareness of my interactions with others.

Jeanne Pegrum

Eastport

 

Reconciliation needed

To the editor:

I read the article in the May issue about Maine’s racist history and thought it was excellent. Thank you for acknowledging this aspect of our state’s history.

Though it’s apparent that it existed (and continues to exist), rarely is this perspective shared and discussed. In my opinion, we will make little to no progress on healing, reconciliation, and true equity and inclusion until we can all talk openly about how those outside of the predominant race and culture were, and continue to be, treated.

Again, thank you for creating a space for this important dialogue. I hope your article sparks thoughtful, meaningful, and productive conversations.

Douglas Corman

Mount Desert

 

Don’t forget the French

To the editor:

Without taking away the thrust of your “Maine’s not-so-clean history on race” story (May issue) I’d make two points.

One is that while Maine is still very white, it might be more appropriate to say it’s 94.3% white, rather than having only 3.3% of minority populations here. I see that the 3.3% figure pops up on a Google search, but that appears to ignore over 2% over multi-racial people.

The distinction is a minor quibble because the overall picture is what you say.

Somewhat more serious, just to flesh out the record, is the omission of the fact that the huge Ku Klux Klan numbers in Maine in the 1920’s was driven largely by anti-Catholic feelings, caused by the huge influx of French-Canadian mill workers, with some Irish thrown in as well.

Without the fear of a Catholic onslaught on the Protestant majority, I don’t think the anti-Black, Indian, and Jew principles of the Klan would have been as much of a factor in the Klan fervor.

I’m no skilled historian, but maybe these two observations add a touch of context to the unassailable main points of your article.

Richard Merserau

Brunswick

 

Missing victims

To the editor:

I always enjoy reading The Working Waterfront.

I was surprised in reading the article, “Maine’s not-so-clean history on race” that professor Todd Little-Sebold could talk about the KKK in Maine without mentioning its virulent anti-Catholicism. The orginal KKK was certainly about race, but the resurgent KKK of the 1920s was xenophobic toward all non-Yankee groups and was particularly strong in Maine.

Ray Estabrook

Belfast

 

Venue correction

To the editor:

I appreciate the thoughtful article on (some of) the history of racism in Maine, including islands and coastal communities. I must, however, point out errors that unfortunately cast an even worse light on our church than the actual facts.

The meeting referenced having taken place at the Bar Harbor Congregational Church occurred on April 9, 1924, but at the Bar Harbor Casino (which no longer stands).  At that meeting, the BHCC minister Rev. Homer Nelson gave an invocation (different from an introduction), though I have not been able to unearth his text. I wish I could.

Though we cannot erase this disturbing moment in our history, the Bar Harbor Congregational Church repudiates any association (even in passing) with the KKK, and instead takes seriously our fundamental commitment to equity and inclusivity—not only related to anti-racist work but also in response to every other dynamic that results in exclusion, marginalization, victimization, or oppression.

Rev. Rob Benson

Pastor

 

Be clear on immigration

To the editor:

I’m writing to tell you how much we enjoy The Working Waterfront and look forward to every issue. The article about Allen Island in the April issue was really great!

But I wanted to bring to your attention a misstatement in the review by Tina Cohen of the book Dear Maine. Cohen writes, “Fear or disdain of immigrants who have moved to the U.S. is, sadly, nothing new. Some Americans react with simplistic, paranoid thinking, saying ‘build the wall’ or ‘you will not replace us.’”

This, of course, is a direct attack on the Trump policies which thankfully kept our border secure. The actual truth is that Trump and most conservatives are actually pro-immigration; it’s just conveniently forgotten that we are against illegal immigration which gets morphed into anti-immigration by the left-biased media everywhere.

I think you can find many times on record with Trump saying he supports legal immigration. It’s pretty obvious that a wall is not meant to stop legal immigration isn’t it?

My wife’s family immigrated here from Germany, assimilated to our society, learned our language, and became productive participants in our country, something that has been lost in the latest rush to let millions of people into the U.S.

While I know full well that conservative thinking people like myself are a minority here in the Midcoast, it’s still discouraging to see one of our favorite publications publicizing misinformation.

Bruce Fagley

Port Clyde

 

‘Terribly misplaced’

 To the editor:

I’ve been reading The Working Waterfront much more closely over the past year or two. There is so much great content now, well-reported from a variety of viewpoints. Still, some published pieces seem mis-matched with newspaper’s current purpose, editorial direction, and its other contributors.

The creepy, cringy poolside Observer column (February/March issue) about ogling the young women, their bathing suits, and suntan oil was terribly misplaced in today’s Working Waterfront. That the column was a re-run from some years earlier compounds the error. It sounds like readers—and perhaps some writers?—weighed in with negative comments this time.

Mr. Crossman—by all accounts a good and community-minded man—did write “An apology and an explanation” with meaningful opening paragraphs from an un-published essay that show he values appropriate behavior and language, and I buy that. But still, someone re-submitted and someone re-ran a column that today is so far off the mark, and also counter to Mr. Crossman’s written values.

Finally, the review that he wrote about a female/male relationship book smacked of a make-up assignment from the penalty box, and I found no sense and no craft in the “review.”

I enjoy well-written Maine humor. And I especially look to The Working Waterfront for purposeful writing that goes somewhere, is relevant, and has a “so what?” for our current day. I expect you receive proposals and pitches from new writers and journalists and hope to see more fresh contributions along the above lines in your newspaper.

Mark Sullivan
Southwest Harbor

  

Allen, Benner islands context

To the editor:

I found the article in the April issue of The Working Waterfront on Allen and Benner islands interesting. I am glad these islands are now in good hands.

When George Weymouth dropped anchor off Allen Island, he immediately established bad relations between the English and local inhabitants. First, he rebuffed emissaries of the regional chief, and then he kidnapped three Indians and took them back to England.

I would like to correct one thing: The Indians encountered by Weymouth in 1605 were not Abenakis. They were Etchemins, whose homeland extended from the Kennebec to the St. John rivers. Unlike the Abenakis, the Etchemins did not grow their own crops, but relied largely on wild foods, especially those from the sea. Such corn and beans as they ate they obtained though trade with Abenakis.

In 1605, Etchemins living south of the Narraguagus River were joined in a defensive alliance with Abenakis living east of the Mousam River in southern Maine. Known as the Mawooshen confederacy, meaning “band of people walking and acting together,” the alliance was formed in response to Mi’kmaq  (known to the English as Tarretines) raids from the north.

The Mi’kmaqs, having early contact with the French, acquired guns and shallops (small sailing vessels that could also be rowed) from these newcomers, giving them a military advantage over their southern neighbors. This allowed them to replace their formerly peaceful trading with their neighbors with raiding. In 1615, they managed to kill the grand chief of the Mawooshen confederacy, followed a year later by “The Great Dying,” a disease of European origin that wiped out huge numbers of indigenous populations from Narragansett Bay well Downeast.

The descendants of the Wamooshen confederacy are known today as Penobscots, who for many decades made a distinction between saltwater families (largely Etchemins) and those living up-river (largely Abenakis).

William A. Haviland

Deer Isle

 

Librarian sleuth solves mystery

To the editor:

The void, the impenetrable wall, the mental dead end—even youngsters suffer the torture of drawing a complete blank. Usually the elusive factoid—who wrote Moby Dick? What was Beyonce’s first hit?—bubbles to the surface after a few deep breaths. If not, there’s always Siri.

Unfortunately, there are those mental tabula rasa moments that persist, when whatever has slipped the mind seems gone forever. This is exactly the state of empty-mindedness that Beckie Delaney, co-director at Jackson Memorial Library in Tenants Harbor saved me from recently. I had been struggling for 20 years to remember the title of a book I read and loved back in 2002.

I read the long-lost book while renting a cottage in Cushing. Naturally, the end of my vacation presented me with a terrible temptation to tuck that little volume into my suitcase. I did resist and left that lovely book to its fate.

The summers that followed I searched in Maine’s many used book stores, but the hunt was complicated, as I couldn’t remember the title or author, only the plot.

When I stopped into the library with a list of recommendations by Maureen Corrigan, “Fresh Air’s” book critic on NPR, Ms. Delaney made short work of my list. She was so efficient, I decided to lob my standard question about the mystery book with my well-practiced plot synopsis:  “Girl in the 1800s stays behind while everyone else in town heads to the Ohio territories. Against all odds, she survives a Maine winter alone.”

Without batting an eye, Ms. Delaney turned to her computer and tapped out a request to her colleagues at surrounding libraries. Within the hour, I had my answer.  Here I Stay, by Elizabeth Coatsworth, published 1938.  Thank you, Ms. Delaney.

Constance Silverman

Tenants Harbor

 

The Working Waterfront welcomes letters to the editor. Please send them to editor Tom Groening at tgroening@islandinstitute.org with LTE in the subject line. Letters should be about 300 words and address issues that the newspaper covers. We also print longer opinion pieces, but please clear them first with the editor.