Nineteenth-Century Black Politics in Maine: Historical Research and Legacies
a panel discussion
Thur. July 22, 6-7:30pm EST
In September 1826, a group of six African American men addressed a letter “To the Public” on behalf of about six hundred of their brethren in Portland, Maine, in which they announced their intention to “erect a suitable house for public worship” to serve their community. Their plan came to fruition in the construction of the Abyssinian Meeting House, built in 1828, which became the epicenter of Maine abolitionism and African American politics. The original Meeting House building still stands in Portland and is a focal point for ongoing research and preservation efforts. The meetinghouse campaign represents one of the most visible moments of activism for these Black Mainers, but their activities and influence extended into almost every aspect of nineteenth-century American history and politics. Black Mainers held political offices and appointments, campaigned on behalf of national parties, and shaped political debates surrounding slavery, abolition, and racism. This panel discussion will explore the political endeavors of the creators of the meetinghouse plan and their activist allies in the decades surrounding its construction, putting this research in conversation with ongoing public history and preservation work.
The panel will highlight important new research by Van Gosse (Franklin & Marshall University) whose book, The First Reconstruction: Black Politics in America, From the Revolution to the Civil War (University of North Carolina Press, 2021), includes chapters devoted to the partisan politics of Black Mainers. Panelists Pamela Cummings (President of the Committee to Restore the Abyssinian Meeting House), Mary Freeman (University of Maine), and Bob Greene (Journalist & Independent Scholar) will respond from their respective viewpoints, leaving time for further questions and discussion with the audience.