Immigration discrimination and Franco-American history

LEWISTON, Maine – A historical overview by James Myall, presented during a seminar on March 19th in Lewiston, described how Franco-Americans were subjected to immigration discrimination during the 19th and into the 20th century.  Anti-immigration discrimination campaigns were led by the Know-Nothings and the Ku Klux Klan. Myall writes a Bangor Daily News blog at this site here.

Myall included news reports and pictures he obtained during his research.

Three resources I often refer to in my writings about the discrimination demonstrated towards French-Canadian immigrants and Franco-Americans are:

  1. The Silent Playground, by Ross and Judy Paradis of Frenchville, Maine published in  Voyages: A Maine Franco-American Reader, pp 428-440.
  2. Réveil-Waking Up French the Repression and Renaissance of the French in New England, a documentary film by Ben Levine
  3. Remarks of Severin M. Beliveau: 20th Biennial conference of the American Council of Quebec Studies, in Portland Maine on November 3, 2016 published in Hiver/Winter 2017, Vol. 38 # 4 “Le Forum, pp 19-20. (See excerpts below.)

An anti-Catholic riot that occurred on July 6, 1854, in Bath Maine, was one of a number that took place in coastal Maine in the 1850s, led by the Know Nothings.

In fact, the horrible riots spread to other areas, including the tarring and feathering of Father John Bapst, in the town of Ellsworth, Maine. The violence in the 1850s was associated with the rise of the Know-Nothing Party.

Ku Klux Klan in Maine

Anti-immigration demonstrations led by the Ku Klux Klan- video clips are included in this documentary film.

Although the Ku Klux Klan is most often associated with white hooded mobs who preached white supremacy, the revival of the organization in Maine during the 1920s, was also anti-Catholic. In fact, from news reports of the Klan’s activities, it was evident that the organization was opposed to the burgeoning number of French-Canadian and Irish immigrants who were living in Maine and working in the industrial cities, especially in Lewiston, Waterville, and in York County, in Southern Maine.

In fact, the Klan incited the historic history of contentious relations between Maine’s Protestant ‘Yankee’ population (those descended from the original English colonials),  and Irish-Catholic and French Canadian Catholic newcomers, who were immigrating in large numbers. The rise of the Know-Nothing Party in the 1850s even resulted in the burning of a Catholic church in Bath, Maine, and the tarring and feathering of the Jesuit priest Father John Bapst, in Ellsworth.

Severin Beliveau in Augusta

Severin Beliveau, a speech to the 20th Biennial conference of the American Council of Quebec Studies in Portland Maine described some of the anti-immigration activities led by the Ku Klux Klan in Maine.

Following is an excerpt from Beliveau’s presentation:

“In Maine, the Franco-Americans were the targets of hate in communities like Rumford, where I grew up.  My father, who was also a lawyer, Albert Beliveau, who became the first Franco-American to serve on the Maine Supreme Court, told me often about watching a cross burn above the Androscoggin River, near Rumford, on a ledge overlooking the tenement buildings occupied by Franco mill workers.  This was the 1930s, when Owen Brewster, a Klan member, was first elected the Governor Maine, then one of its senators in Washington, and where, also, in Portland, the KKK held one of the largest parades in Portland’s history, promoting white supremacy and anti-immigration policies.”

Although the caustic history of Klan activities and anti-immigration demonstrations against French-Canadian immigrants may seem distant, the discrimination simmering against new French speaking immigrants was evident in remarks by the recently resigned Shane Bouchard, who abruptly left his position as Mayor of Lewiston, a move caused, in part, by racial remarks.

See my letter to the editor at this link here:

“Shane Bouchard and the Ku Klux Klan text message gives more evidence to the well known quote about those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.”

Beliveau included an optimistic overview about how Franco-Americans have been able to overcome the past.  “Nevertheless, there have been many changes. Maine is becoming a Franco-American homeland. Maine is the most ‘French’ state in New England.”

Ceux qui ne peuvent pas se souvenir du passé sont condamnés à le répéter.

Myall’s presentation was given during an evening program on March 19,  2019, held at the University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn College (USM LAC) and it was sponsored by the Franco-American Collection.

Juliana L'Heureux

About Juliana L'Heureux

Juliana L’Heureux is a free lance writer who publishes news, blogs and articles about Franco-Americans and the French culture. She has written about the culture in weekly and bi-weekly articles, for the past 27 years.