AUGUSTA- A historic photographic exhibit on display on the first floor of the Maine Capitol in Augusta, includes one black and white image with a somber history lesson.
I was unprepared for the information attached to the very serene picture taken in 1913, Kennebunkport, donated to the exhibit by the Penobscot Marine Museum.
In the photo, a group of ladies are lounging on what locals call “Mother’s Beach”. In fact, the photograph’s label does not describe the scene in the picture. Although I was initially amused by the pictured group of women who were completely covered with hats, and beach dresses sitting on the sand, with a distant image of Walker’s Point in the landscape, I soon experienced an eye opening history lesson when I took time to read the accompanying label.
Indeed, Maine has a dark history of harboring overt discrimination towards “Hebrews” and “Francos” but to read this information on a picture taken in 1913, on Kennebunkport’s Mother’s Beach, was startling to me. I happen to have other photographic evidence to document this history as well. About 10 years ago, I purchased a local history book at a librarey sale where I unexpectedly read about how the Ku Klux KLan was active in Maine’s midcoast Bailey Island. I’ve transcribed the label on the Kennebunkport Beach photograph and included my photograph.
Also, in this blog, I’ve included my pictures taken from the local history about Bailey’s Island.
Although Maine has moved beyond the history of the days when organized efforts targeted Jews and Francos caused by religious bigotry, these pictures remind us to be diligent in our efforts to prevent the past from becoming the present.
Kennebunkport Beach – knows by locals as “Mother’s Beach”
Penobscot Marine Museum- transcribed label:
Few swimmers brave the bracing waters of Kennebunk Beach which, thanks to its orientation, catches the southwest breeze. Kennebunk and Kennebunkport – glimpsed at the far right in the 1913 black and white photograph, are divided by the Kennebunk River, which once produced many ships. The influx of large numbers of immigrants into cities in the northeast at the turn of the 20th century led to policies, even in Maine, excluding members of certain ethnic groups – especially “Hebrews”, from buying cottage lots or registering in the beach hotels. By 1920, only one of the more than twenty hotels in Kennebunk is said to have accepted reservations from suspected Jews (this despite long friendships between Maine farm families and Jewish peddlers). The 1920’s also saw the rise and fall of the Ku Klux Klan in Maine, with Kennebunkport being termed a Klan “capital”. Many Protestants, especially those who were Republicans, alarmed by the influx of the French-Canadian Roman Catholics, joined the KKK as readily as Mainers had long joined other fraternal organizations. But, the KKK was not the Odd Fellows, and while marching in hoods and throwing baseballs at a picture of the Catholic Pope might have seemed harmless, burning a cross in someone’s front yard was an act of terrorizing. Briefly, a political force, the Klan faced strong opposition, especially from old line tolerant Republicans and by 1930, had collapsed. As shameful as the flirtation had been, Klan activities in Maine never approached the horrors of the lynchings of black Africans seen in other state. W. H. Bunting.
In the local history about Bailey Island, this photograph is included in the book:
Sadly, these photographs are evidence to document how Maine’s beautiful coastal communities became enablers of racism against Franco-Americans and Jews, a century ago.
The historic exhibit of old Maine photographs includes dozens of vintage scenes from throughout the state. They are accessible to the public on display on the first floor of the State House, in the foyer just beyond the Capitol security’s screening station.