Born 1931 (Age 66) in Bangor, ME (USA)
Residence at Time of Interview: Portland, ME (USA)
Ethnicity: African American
Interviewer: Bill Bould
“Blacks came to Maine a number of different ways. They came from the underground railroad, they came because they were sold, to one person, to another person. Pepperell Mills down in Biddeford had a number of slaves working for them. Maine didnt have any slave legislation, but they did have slaves. And they came in boats, they came as far as Thomaston. In Thomaston they came because they were sold. A number of them were sold to ministers because the ministers were elderly and they needed someone to take care of their belongings and they did that kind of work. They came from the British West Indies, they came from the south and they came from Canada. Now let me tell you about that. Because the underground railroad came up through Maine up through Portland up through Brunswick, and went right up the coastline to Canada. They also came up through Augusta, Vassalboro, and up to Jackman and up to Montreal, Quebec and that country. Blacks did all there traveling through the state of Maine into Canada. And most of them found their way into Canada but some of them thought it was safe and moved back to Maine. Now you will also understand that if you look at the population of the state of Maine, you will see that in the Bangor neighborhood most of those people are from Canada. If you look at the Portland area, most of them are from the south. And theres two or three families in the Lewiston area or Augusta area.
I can remember as a young kid, I can remember my aunts and uncles going back and forth to Canada. I heard names but I never had gone back.
I found out that most of my ancestors are from Harlem. Harlem, Maine. I couldnt figure it out until I started looking. Harlem Maine is just outside of Augusta. It was called Black and Burrells Plantation that was changed to Harlem. Then in 1822 they change the district to read China, Maine. If you looked at an old map of Maine youll see Harlem.
I was doing research on black history and I got an article from a young man. It had been done by a paper up in Augusta, by Mary Grow. Mary Grow had done an article on a cemetery in Harlem, which I knew. And it was Talbot. I called her up, met her up in Augusta. She said Nobody knows about this except hunters or something. So we met Mary Grow and went up there. And we go down an old cow path. We went down about a hundred yards. We walked fifty yards deeper in the woods. There was a huge grave stone from my great great great great grandmother.
While I was going through black history and family history, I said, Gee the best thing for me to do is, because I dont know where to go around here, is to go to Canada and find out. Cause my mother is from Canada. I have her old papers and all that. I have some other relatives in Canada. So Im going to Canada and I talked my brother and sister to go with me.
My mothers a lot darker than I am and my sister is in between there somewhere. My sister sat in the back seat and my brother sat right beside me and we went up to Canada. We went up to Houlton. Of course you have to go across the boarder and there is a man standing there. He come around and looks in the car and says, Where you from?
Im from Portland. My brothers from Bangor and my sisters from Bangor.
He says, Oh. What you going to do?
I said, Im just going to look around and see if I cant find some of my family history.
He said, Your looking for George McIntyre. Well George McIntyre is my mothers father.
I went right on the floor. I cant believe it. I was so surprised, I never got his name. I was drive on saying, How could he known? How could he possibly known? He must see a lot of people coming back and forth. So we went to the hardware store, got the man.
He said, Heres where you go. We went over there. Knocked on the door.
His wife came to the door. Come to find out he had a heart attack. He was elderly. I got the feeling she didnt like the idea of us in there talking to him or bothering him.
And right away I said, Look. Im glad to have met you. Its my pleasure.
I said, Look can we come back some other time. Your having difficulty now. And I want you to rest. and we left. I just wanted to explain to him as we left. I thought maybe that made his wife feel better or him feel better. I have never been back. But we just had to leave.
So we left there and went down to the University of New Brunswick, where they have the library. And we went in there. So I went and looked at some books. We stayed there, I think, three days. I met a man at the University who wrote, Blacks of New Brunswick. He gave me a copy and signed it.
Im not from Portland. I was born and brought up in Bangor. And of course we were a black family and of course the population of Bangor, as far as minorities is concerned is much greater than it is was. The two streets that I lived on was Carroll and Parker Streets, were short streets. And bet there were probably from thirty-five to forty black kids within those two streets. You also have to remember that in my day and age, families were made of up of eight, ten, twelve kids.
What that did for me, though I wasnt aware of it, it told me, back then, about diversity. Our neighborhood was made up of black individuals and poor white low income families who worked. So diversity was part of my whole neighbor and I learned what it was to be diversified and we all got along.
I would go on down to a friend of mines house and Id stand outside the door and Id say, Pat! or Rollie!
Theyd come out and say, Well you know their eating their supper now. You want to come in for supper?
Well, Ill pass on that. Okay.
And thered be balls and gloves, right inside the door and they would say, you know, Take what you want. And well you took what you wanted and went out on the street. You had to put it back where you found it. And those kind of lessons stayed with me.
If we were swimming or if we went to a ball park, and we came back, and one of them would say, Oh I have to go to catholic church. Because its Saturday, I have to go to catholic church.
Well, Id say, Lets go. Well, I didnt know about the catholic church. And there Id find myself, inside the catholic church. They would be doing their thing. We became a big family. All of us grew up together and became a big family.
The first school I went to was a little one room school house. That I will never forget it. It was two blocks from my house and it was just a one room school house. And we had these little poles that held the ceiling up. We use to climb up the poles. We use to do some things. But it was a one room school house. When we had to go to lunch or for a break, the girls would go down one side of the building and the boys would go around down on this side.
I have four girls. Theyre not girls any more theyre women. I dont want to get myself into trouble. Every time I went to Bangor Id go by the building. Id say, That was my school. I use to go to that school. Of course they didnt quite understand that. But I wanted to show them that one room school house is one thing that I am proud of. And I went to that school.
I was a young kid. I had a lot on the ball, at least I though I did. Dont get me wrong. And I was trying to keep everything together, but one thing I was trying to go to school. The other thing I was trying to learn how to dance. Never did learn how to dance. But make sure that dont get back to my wife.
Were talking about 1948, 1950, 51. I was a young teenager, a high school student. We had at that time, what we called a community center. What I couldnt figure out was that on the other side of town was a black community center, a community center for black people. But on the other side of town, there was a community center but it was for white veterans and white service men. I couldnt figure out, Why do we have two? This was a war we were fighting for our freedom. We have men and women in the arm services. Why do we have two? We couldnt figure it out. My last senior year, most the time I spent down at the community center. We would go over there and wed play pool. And wed learn to dance. This was a community center where we all grew up in my senior year.
We had a man in Bangor by the name of Milton Garry. He was a black lawyer. I didnt realize it at the time, he was a black lawyer and a minister. I didnt realize it at the time because I was running here and I was running there, trying to stay with this and trying to stay with that. And Milton Garry was all over Bangor. He was a good lawyer and he kept me out of trouble.
Milton Garry was the only black lawyer that I knew of in the state of Maine.. And he was the first black to graduate from the University of Maine law school, up in Orono that was way back in the 1920’s. I would see Milton Garry down at the community center. Here he was Milton Garry, a lawyer. He was president at the time of the community center in Bangor.
The one thing I really took note of was the window. I just kept looking out the window. And it finally got to a point where I said, I cant take this any more., and quit. One of the reasons why I couldnt take it more was I was learning very little. I wasnt getting any black history at all. And, of course, I wasnt being pushed by any of the teachers or anybody in the educational system. I just gotta get out of here. I said, Bye. Ill see ya later. and I was gone. And they would say, You go back to school. You graduate and well buy you a car or something.
Okay. Im back to school. but than again the window got closed. I looked out the window again and about two weeks later I said, I cant take this no more. Im gone. Im going.
So my grandma took me aside and said, When you graduate Ill send you to barber school.
I said, Barber school! Okay. Im going to barber school.
Barber school, thats something I could look up to. There was only one black barber in Bangor, the only one I knew, Alfred Cromwell. Every body went to Alfred Cromwell on Saturday morning or Saturday afternoon.. Thats where blacks got there hair cut. Then, not today, you had to go to a black barber to get your hair cut. Theyre the only ones who knew how to cut black hair. The hairs a little bit different you know. Except at my age my hair doesnt grow as fast as it use to grow. It kind of stopped. But I still have to go get a hair cut. White barbers didnt know how to cut blacks hair. Blacks hair is much different than whites hair. Thats the way it is.
Back to school. About two week later, the window got to me again. In my senior year, I quit a total of four times. I said, Im outta here. Im gone. Im not getting as far ahead as Id like to.
I cant find a decent job even tough my father works at what they called Bangor House. Because you have to remember that blacks were cooks. They ran the elevators. They did the sweeping and floor dusting. The had manual jobs and my father was one of several cooks in the city of Bangor.
Well I couldnt find a job. It just didnt phase me. I said, Look Im going down to Portland. I played football down there for Bangor for about a year before that. I met a young woman down there. I call her young woman. I dont call her young girl. She and I were seeing one another. Well Id hitch hike down, back and forth. And she talked me to go back to school and seeing what I could do. Well she had a lot to say then, still does.
There was a teacher at Bangor high school by the name of Mark Shed and he had just graduated from the University of Maine up at Orono. And he was a teacher but he was also assistant football coach at high school. He took he aside one time. And he said, Your going to graduate.
I said, I am?
He said, But you gotta do a lot of work. He talked to me.
Ill tell you right now. He got me to graduate. And I graduated from Bangor high school and I thank Mark Shed. Mark Shed, pasted away a couple of years ago. Ill never forget Mark Shed. Hes responsible for my high school diploma.
It wasnt until we were getting out of high school that people were saying things need to change here. Things need to change. I thought, There were a couple of things I really want to do. That probably is what I will do, must do. I must join the service. I must join the Army. I cant find anybody in my immediate family who had been in the service. But in the back of my mind I was saying, I dont want someone, down the road, to come up to me and say, You didnt do anything for your country. I say, Im going to join the service. And the other thing is I wanted to join the service so I can be shipped down south. Cause I want to know whats going on down south. Ive read, Ive heard about whats going on down there. But I want to go see with my own eyes whats taking place. So I joined the service. This is 1953. After I got out of high school I joined the US Army and went down to Fort Dix. And I put in for Korea twice. And I never got to Korea.
But what I did was I decided to get married to the same woman I was going with. I got married. One week later they sent me to a place called Thule, Greenland. Right on the North Pole. But the only thing on the North Pole that was black is the night. They have six months of darkness. There was absolutely nothing there. Know what Im saying. How did I get to the North Pole? Maybe it was a good thing. I dont know, maybe if I was in Vietnam, I wouldnt be around here today. I dont know that. I spent a year in Thule, Greenland. Then came home. I went back to same place I left, which was Fort Devens (Mass.). Thats about as far south I gotten. I got out in 1956 I was discharged.
Then my life changed again because in 1956 I couldnt find a job. Because if your black you couldnt find a job. You got to remember, theres a difference in Black, Afro-American, Negro, Darkie, Colored. There are all those words and there interchangeable. Because sometimes when we talk, we talk about the different words. Because they were used differently and used in different generations. When I was coming along it was always colored people. Somebody would ask me, Id say, Im colored. Then it became, Im a Negro. But you know Im trying to follow who I am. That kind of thing you know.
Moving back to Portland I couldnt find a decent job. If you looked around you saw very few black people. We was like almost invisible. Even though we were there. But you never saw them like in the store, as a clerk, never saw them in a bank. You never saw them in professional institutions. You never saw a black doctor, a black nurse. You never saw any of those positions held by a black person. If you were to go to the schools you didnt see black pictures on the wall, or city hall or in the church.
Two years ago, my daughter, who works for the city now, took one of my grandchildren to school. And as she took him to school she noticed that around the walls there wasnt a black face. So on the way out of school, she said, I dont find anybody in this school thats black on any of the walls. Anybody notice that?
The next morning she took him to school. There wasnt any pictures on any of the walls. They were all gone. So those are some of the thing you can do. Its usually like history pictures or pictures of the former governor or presidents of the United States were on the walls. No one noticed it until some one brought it up and said.
We knew, at least in the state of Maine, blacks knew where they couldnt go and where they could go. But there was subtle discrimination and prejudice. Now in the south you knew exactly what you could and exactly what you cant do. You put those together, Maine was as bad off as any place else. We had our problems. The problems were here.
So, 1956 when I got of the service, some things had to change. One of the things I wrote for the paper, in the Lewiston editor, I wrote, wait a minute somethings wrong here. We had a couple of meetings with a group of blacks, and we were saying some of us feel different and we should do something. There needs to be some changes. And then we started a branch of the NAACP in 1957 in Portland. They had a branch before that 1955 or 1956 or something. But in 1957 we start a branch here. It was made up mostly of black people. Of course it didnt go very far because there was nothing really moving. And people were under the impression that everything was okay. You know you dont have to do anything.
The NAACP on the national level came back with a statement that we have to picket Woolworths store, because they do not hire black people, around the country. We said well do that and we had a big meeting and everybody showed up, everybody showed up and said, No! We arent going to do that. That could be bad for us. Walking down the street people are going to take a look at us. There were only three of us in the whole meeting that said we want to picket. And the rest said, No. Well send our money in.
It wasnt until two weeks later, that one of our members found out that, I think it was a town in Vermont , a small town, that had only about two or three black families living in the whole town, were picketing Woolworths. And we said wait we represent more than that and we couldnt do it. We didnt have the support to do that. And the branch went sort of by the way, that was 1957.
Then in 1963 I got a call. It was the minister from the Green Memorial Zion Church, Reverend Bruce. And he said, You want to go to Washington DC?
I said, Washington DC?
I dont know. I dont know about going to Washington DC. What am I going to do?
Well. He said, Their going to have a march on Washington. And Reverend King is going to be there. Roy Wilkins is going to be there.
I said, What time do we leave? How do I get there?
We hadnt got word on what had been taking place. I was vice president of NAACP. We were trying to do things here. We would have meetings once or twice a month. And we tried to find out what was going on. At that time you couldnt be very vocal because you were afraid. Things took place that you couldnt do anything about. And there was no place to go we didnt have anything, except ourselves.
I asked Reverend Brooks, How are we going to get to Washington?.
The NAACP is going to pay for it.
I said, Well go down!
Everyone got around to us and said, You dont want to go march on Washington because you will get killed. This just isnt the right thing to do.
Well Ive got to go.
So there was seven of us that went down from Portland. We went down in three cars. We went down to Boston. And that night they had a rally and we boarded the buses. They had big buses, those railway buses. And we rode there, all the way down. I never forget as you rode the bus, looked out the window, you saw for miles. The road was all flat. You could see for miles and thats all you saw was buses. Any kind of bus you ever could imagine. We would see school buses, greyhound buses, private buses. All coming down.
And we go on down to Baltimore Maryland and we pulled into a church. And we get out and go in one door. Go down in the basement and you would eat breakfast. Eat your breakfast go out another door and get back on the bus. But around that church they had white policemen and the national guard with their rifles and their billie clubs. So you knew there wasnt much you could do. And you were afraid. You got back on your bus and sat on your bus and went down to Washington.
And of course the place was mobbed with people. And we marched down Pennsylvania Avenue. We wrote different signs on boards, you know. And on the boards we wrote, Freedom And I put, Maine. Walking down Pennsylvania Avenue in 1963, people would say, Wheres Maine? And they had no idea what you were talking about or what you were doing.
We got to the Lincoln Memorial and the place was mobbed. I walked around the back of the Lincoln Memorial. And there I met Jackie Robinson and his son. They were standing inside the fence and they just kind of walked around. So we shock hands. To me it was a tremendous time. It was an incredible time for me. When I was a kid playing ball in high school, I won a Jackie Robinson Trophy. But it was a tremendous experience. Then we heard Roy Wilkins. We heard John Lewis.
Of course if youve been to Washington DC, you realize its hot. August 27, 1963, and of course it gets so hot and as your standing there with people. And I was lucky cause I was up near the front but people would faint. The heat would just beat on you. As the day went on we just got weak. Oh man! We were just standing and you just got weak.
I was very excited when they introduced Dr. Martin Luther King and everybody got their strength back. Everybody just went crazy. And we heard Dr Martin Luther King. Then at the end they took a vote from everybody, Now heres what you must do when you go home. Heres what you going to do. Were going to take all this over to the capital, over to Kennedy and were going to tell him how you feel. And this and this. We did that.
A lot of people were glad to see us come home because they were afraid something was going to happen. People were getting killed in the south for just looking at somebody in the wrong direction. So they were glad to see us come home. Then we realized as we watched TV what a tremendous experience this was. And when we looked in the paper, it became a historical achievement. I dont think a lot of us didnt take that into consideration at the time. We didnt think about that. We thought about civil rights and that.
I was working as a printer. I was also working as an upholster. That was going from one job to another job, to another job, to another job. And I always had a way of being very vocal . If something wasnt right Id talk about it. Sometimes I lost a job. Working as an upholsterer they didnt know if I was black or white. This is another whole area, black people are the most multicolored people of the world. Some people are very black. Some brown. Im sort of a light skinned black . Sometimes people say, Are you an Indian? Are you Hispanic?
No., at that time, Im a Negro or at another time, Im Black. and than things take a different turn.
And that was another time in my life when things started to change. Things were changing. I became even more vocal today than I was yesterday. I learned a lot because now we really got to keep moving. We got to do some things and get some things done. Nineteen-sixty-four, which was the next year we started a branch, I got a call. I was running a printing press and Reverend Birger Johnson came in and another guy says, Come here. So the owner of the establishment and I went out. He says, Reverend Johnson wants to talk to you.
Ok. What did I do?
Well you didnt do anything. He said, You know just about all the black people in the city of Portland. And he said, Their looking to start a branch of the NAACP and they need some names.
Ill tell you what Ill do. Ill go home and write you out some names and you have those names.
He said, okay. He said, Ill pick them up. So he picked them up and he was gone.
Then I was running the press about two or three days later. Reverend Birger Johnson came and said, We finally got a name.
Great! I said, I hope you used one I gave ya.
He said yah.
I said, who is it?
He said, YOU!
I was running the press then I said, No no no no, you cant do that and I cant do that. Ive never done that before.
Yes. Weve come to the conclusion that you are the best qualified.
No! No. You cant mean that but he talked and talked and I shouldnt have listened. But he talked and I said, okay.
Ok. I said, Well Ill do it. Ill give it a shot.
And they elected me and I became president in 1964. I had no idea what I was going to do. I did not know.
And as the NAACP was moving up we took up rent control, housing control, public accommodations. We ended up in court. We took people to court. We were down at Old Orchard Beach because one of the kids had come home and had said that one of the teachers had said that all blacks, at that time Negros, should have of gone back to Africa. Wed call up and go down there.
Two good friends of mine, Im sorry to say, the two good friends of mine that were responsible, have since pasted. Larry Connolly and Maurice Beasely. So I met with them maybe about three or four days before your application has to be into state.
And they said, Gerry why dont you run for legislature? It was almost like getting somebody to do something that had never been done before so you dont even think about it.
I said, No, no, no, no, no. Holy mackerel., I said, That never been done before. It cant be done. Hey, I tell you what, If you two guys are going to do it than Ill do it. Then Ill be able to say some things.
So lets get some signatures. We went around and got some signatures. We got enough signatures.
And I was down there working on my press, and they called and said, Gerry youll never guess what happened. Your on the ballot!
I said, What?
And They said, Your on the ballot for November., for the primaries.
You got to be kidding me. I was walking around saying, Im going to be on the ballot. Im going to be on the ballot.
And in those days we had city wide elections. We had a democrat and republican party. So there were twenty-one democrats running and they went in alphabetical order. And there were twelve republicans running and they run in alphabetical order. And well Talbot goes way down at the bottom. And Willie Wheeler was the only name below mine. Most people go to the poles and check off the first name. Larry Connolly is an Irish name. And hes a C. A lot of people know Connollys. But nobody going to go all the way down the bottom and say heres a wise guy down here and check him off.
And we held out for the primaries. And Ill be dog gone, out of eleven candidates I came in tenth. And I could not believe it. I just couldnt believe it. It was unheard of. You just cant walk out and say I won.
Marion Jordan also the first time she ran, she came in eleven. You cant fathom that but in November your going to the elections. I was the only black candidate. The only black to ever run.
And for weeks, I was saying, I dont believe it. I dont believe it.
And people and other candidates were saying, Dont worry. Portland just chooses democrats. So your elected.
Well I cant believe that. Im a democrat but Im also black. And its the first time Ive won. And they said, Dont worry about it.
The election was held and I came in ninth. I came in ninth. And Im elected. I went down to city hall, cause everybody gets around city hall, They dont do that anymore, as the votes come in and you won . You won. Its over. Its over. It was like you were dreaming. Its unbelievable. Its hard for me to explain.
And I had to sit down with myself. And I had to say, Now wait a minute now. Im going to the legislature. You are going to represent the city of Portland. This is happening. Im going to be the same guy I was before. Ill give it my best shot. I got to do what I think is best. Okay thats what Im going to do.
So I went to the legislature. Oh and Ill tell ya, all this marble. And Im saying, What am I doing here? Of course everybody now knows that your black. Of course they dont know how to take you and you dont know how to take them. And we sort of felt that way for six or eight months. I would get up to say something and I would say something and it was just quiet. Cause nobody knew what to do. They didnt know what to do. And I had to figure that out. Id say something to break down things. Let me give an example, someone would get up and say something like, You know we are having an awful problem with black flies. I mean theyre causing a problem. Id take my microphone then Id get up and say, Mister speaker, he can join the NAACP. Of course they started roaring. And so little by little we broke it down.
I always was very vocal. I always try to be strong in my beliefs, about what should happen. I sponsored a bill dealing with hand gun control. I almost got killed myself on that. They would say, No no no. Youll never be elected after that. People would come to my house, would back me up against the refrigerator, I told you not to do that.
Dont worry about it, you know.
I sponsored a bill dealing with the word nigger. Because I found that in the book The Length and Breath of Maine, which is a book dealing with maps, there were several names of Nigger in Maine. And I couldnt believe it. I happened to catch the book down at the library one day. Names like Nigger Hill, Nigger Brook, Nigger Island, it was in the book. I took it to the mapping division and they didnt do anything with it. And I learned then that this was not the way to go. So I put in my bill dealing with the word nigger that had to be taken off the maps. That was a big project. I didnt realize it. Because it just cant be taken off a map, it was to go to the federal government. Its a long process. And that came into affect during Governor Longleys term.
There were some people who had a problem with that. I had a guy from Westbrook who stopped and said, Wait a minute., and stopped the bill. Because if you do that, the way we had the bill written up, you had a problem with Squaw Mountain, Frenchmens names. I had to find another young man, very bright. He had to change the script. He changed it for me, so it would read to take care of just the word nigger.
There was a lake, I think up in Presque Isle, that was Nigger Lake. And they refused to change it. And it was the law. We had to go to the government. And the Governor just about went to the human rights commission. And they finally changed it to Pelletier Lake. There are still some names around but as far as the map is concerned thats different.
In 1980 I was trying to do some things. Ive got to find another way to some things. Black history has always been my vocation. Its always been my educational period. I got to do some other things.
Governor Brennen had just come into office. And somebody called me up and said, Gerry youre applying for the state department of education.
I said, Education? I dont know anything about education. Why? I dont know anything about education. Gee!! What am I going to do? I got thinking about it and said, Thats something Id like to do because Ive got to learn something. But it would be completely out of my field and something I could work on.
So I applied to governor Joseph Brennen and sure enough I became a state board of education member. And I was saying, The teachers in Bangor aint going to like this at all. Wait a minute hold the phone.
I spent five years on the state board of education traveling. I really went along. I learned about teacher certification. I learned about travel. We use to meet maybe in Augusta and in Portland or Waldo.
Wait a minute. I said Hold it. This is the STATE Board of Education. I dont care what else you do but it is the STATE board of education. And if were going to deal with education than what we got to do is go to the state.
So we went all over. We had a meeting in Calais. Presque Isle. Bangor. Portland. All over the state. I thought that was great because if youre talking about the state, youre talking about teachers and talking about students all over the state.
Let me tell you one more story. I was reading in the paper during my lunch hour, I used to work nights down at the Portland Press Herald in the photograph thing there. I was reading that they were having an auction down in Kennebunk Port. And some of the stuff they were auctioning off appealed to me. Even a Ku Klux Klan Charter.
I said, What? A Ku Klux Klan charter? All the many times Ive spoken and Ive never seen a Ku Klux Klan charter. Geeee, I want to see if I cant get in for my collection.
I called them up and I said, When is it going to be bid on? I have to be there!
Well between the silverware and something else.
Okay. I said, Id be down there.
We had to sign in and get a number and all this. My wife wanted to sit down front. Im a politician. I want to sit up back to see everybody.
She says, No I want to sit down front. So we ended up front.
Pretty soon they bring it in, all rolled up. She said, Well start the bidding off with a hundred dollars.
She says, a hundred dollars? and nobody did anything.
Seven-five dollars? Nobody did anything.
Fifty dollars? Nobody did anything.
Twenty-five Dollars. from up that way. And from that point on it just went, Twenty-five. Thiry-five. Forty.
Now Ive never been to an auction before so I dont know what to do but you know you have to raise your hand. I didnt know what was going on. I cant see anybody, you know.
Hundred twenty-five. Hundred forty-one. Forty-five dollars Geee, What do I do? I dont know who it is. Who voted last?
And the funny thing is, she says, Hundred-forty-five dollars. Last call., and points to me.
I said, Oh my god! Oh my god! I just didnt know.
And I looked at it and it was beautifully done. Very nice and delicate. The things on the outside were gold. It was sanctioned by the state of Maine, 1923 or 24. It had the Klan name. It had about eight names on it and it was from Auburn. It had the offices that they held. I never did go through the names to find out if they had relatives or what ever. That just wasnt my intent. The names were there. There are on the charter. I thought maybe someone wanted to get there hands on it so they could destroy it. I dont know. I gave them my money and I took it. Ive had that and put it in my collection.
Every February, for black history month, we had a get together at the house. We invited people we knew, people we worked with, people who were new to town. I dont care who you were. You came over to my house. We were papering the dinning room, the front room . We hadnt got there so it was kind of bare. The only thing I could do was put some things up. So I put the Ku Klux Klan charter up. And everybody came into the house and said, Where did you get that! I dont think they ever noticed there was never any wall paper on the wall. All they noticed was the Klan charter.
Its at the historical Societys now. I gave it to the historical society. Whenever I went to school or whatever, that was something I took. Cause most kids will think, Ku Klux Klan wasnt in Maine.
The Klan was planning to come to Portland about two years ago. One Sunday morning I went to the mall and was driving by and all of sudden my head went that way and there was the Klan walking around. And I steered into the mall. Got out of my car.
This guy in his white robe come over to me. And I ripped off his hat. He had red hair and said, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
And I said, What are you doing here?
Another guy came over and said, Wait a minute. Just hold the phone.
I said, I didnt mean to do. Im not in favor of that. Thats not my thing.
So we talked about a couple of things.
The next Sunday there was an article in the paper by a young man. The article said that the Ku Klux Klan is a new organization and they are good. So I read that and said, Wait a minute. Hold the phone.
So I wrote a letter to the editor, about how the Ku Klux Klan is a racist and discriminatory organization and that kind of thing. And I sent it to the paper.
I think it was the next Sunday or two Sundays it was in the paper. The phone rings. The wife says, Your wanted on the phone.
I say, Okay.
He say, Hello. This is Bill. I read the article you wrote in the paper.
I said, It was in the paper this morning?
He said, Yeah. Dealing with the Ku Klux Klan . He said, I dont buy it. I dont go along with it.
I said, Why dont you buy it?
He said, Because I lead the Klan for Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. I dont buy it. I dont think that right.
I say, Well thats your opinion. I have no problem with that. Thats your option.
He said, You want to meet?
I said, Ill meet wherever you want to meet. Ill meet you. No problem.
He said, I dont think youd come down to my house because I have things on the walls of members and plaques. Cause Im a Ku Klux Klan member.
I said, Dont make any difference to me. Ill come on down. Where do you live?
He said, You know where Dunkin Donut is? Woodfords Corner? (in Portland)
I said, WHAT?
I walked down. And when I got on the second floor there was a sign on the door which says, Ku Klux Klan. And, Whites only. I was in the right place.
He opened the door. I could look right through the kitchen and right through the living room. And two huge men were sitting there. They had to go three-hundred pounds. But what saved me was, I saw two little kids there.
I said, Im not going to worry about it. and I sat down with them and we talked. And I more or less listened.
I said, Can I see some of those plaques?
He said, No. Those are Klan members. I cant show you them.
So I said, Do you have any material I can read. He gave me the same kind of material theyve been passing for 40 years.
I said, Ill be in touch or whatever. I didnt realize it, at the time, we developed a different kind of communication.
Every time they came to Portland, Id be at work. Itd be one or two oclock in the morning. I get the call. They say, Gerry youve got a telephone call.
Hello this is Captain Swartz of the South Portland police department. We understand that and the Ku Klux Klan and their whole brew is coming to Portland, but we dont nowhere. Hed say, Can you find out?
Id say, Give me some time.
Id call Bill and say, Bill. You have something going? Whens it going?
Hed say, Oh thats going, so and so.
Oh, ok Id say, Thank a million.
Id pick up the phone. Get Swartz down at the south Portland police department.
What they do, is to say the whole Klan is coming from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont. But there was really only maybe five people coming.
They were going to hold a big rally up in Bethel. We were going to go up there and we put together a program with of course Jim Tierney, the attorney general. Jim and I served together. So I called Jim. I called my brother up.
We were going up before hand. Before the Klan has their rally and tell them we dont stand for this and this is what Maine is all about and that kind of thing. We did that. We walked around the stadium and did all kinds of things. And then we were going to leave before they put on their exhibition or whatever. So we left.
We were walking down the school steps and this big guy about six-three, three-hundred pounds, a motorcycle, comes up and says, Wait a minute.
I said, What do you want?
He says, Are you Gerry Talbot?
I say, Yeah.
He said, I dont like the way you speak and what youre saying.
In my mind Im saying, wait a minute, Id better do something because otherwise than that hes going to have me down on the ground. So I looked at him and I say, Let me tell you something, and I pointed at his chest. You want to find out more about whats going on? You come over to my house and have coffee. My coffee pot is always on and my door is always open. Do you understand that?
Yeah. He said, I understand that. And he walks away.
Of course my wife says, Are you crazy? Why you tell em that?
Dont worry about it. and we left.
Maybe twenty five or thirty years Ive had a black display Ive taken to every school in the state. Two years ago, 1995, I came to the conclusion that I cant have that in my house anymore. Because I have two good sized rooms on my third floor and I had stuff all over the place.
I came to the conclusion that I must put it in a place where other people can see that, can feel that, can know that. And the best information I could get was the University of Southern Maine. Because when people come into the State of Maine, there is the University of Southern Maine . They dont have to find where Bowdoin College is, or the University Maine up in Orono. So I got in touch with them and Shoshana Hoose, who writes for the Portland Newspapers, her and I talked with them. And finally I gave them the whole thing. I gave them everything.
I remember Rabbi Sky, who was here in Portland because he was one of the first people whom I met. I saw him Sunday, and I said, Rabbi Sky, I remember a long time ago….
He said, Look you go to Toastmaster club.
I said, Toastmasters Club?
He said, Yah, because your going to go some place.
And of course I had no idea. I dont think Ive gone anywhere since that time. But I never went to Toastmasters Club because I like the way I am. And I want to stay the way I am. Who I am is what I am.
I said, I remember you telling me that. this is going back about thirty years.
I can tell you a lot about some history, some pain. I still wear a lot of scares that I had then, about jobs, about housing, about name calling, about one thing, another. But those are the scars that I wear. And what Ive tried to do is Ive tried to work to make your lives and my life a little better. I dont want you or anybody else, whether its you, your children, your grandchildren wearing those kind of scars. I just dont want you doing that. And I dont think its necessary that we do that. Because we all have to work together. We have to think together. We have to respect each other. We have to do that kind of thing.”