In Maine, a Hidden History on Malaga Island

In Maine, a Hidden History on Malaga Island

U.S. News & World Report
2019-06-04

Tamara Kerrill Field, Contributor


People gather to eat during an event at Malaga Island Preserve. Throughout the island, cutouts were erected to evoke the black and mixed-race islanders that were kicked off their settlement in the early 1900s.
(Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald/Getty Images)

An isolated pocket of African American families flourished for a time in Maine, and now their descendants are discovering their past.

PHIPPSBURG, Maine β€” If it was a sunny day, perhaps a Sunday, Mainers with enough money to buy or rent a boat would cruise by Malaga Island for a peak at the curious inhabitants. It was the beginning of the 20th century, a time of unquestioned racial separation. But here on the little Casco Bay island was a true oddity: blacks, whites and mixed-race people lived together in a cooperative community.

On an average day – according to information gleaned from photographs, excavations and oral tradition – children of every shade played together, men hand fished for cod and women sat with one another, chatting outside the clapboard houses. The gapers bobbing in the bay had almost certainly heard talk of stranger things: rumors of “mentally retarded” mixed-race inhabitants, whisperings that Malaga children had horns and burrowed in tunnels. It was said ashore in Phippsburg that islanders were immoral and savage, that they ate their food uncooked and bore the telltale signs of syphilis.

To this day, in the Casco Bay region, the term “Malagite” is considered a racial slur on a par with the n-word. Descendants of the islanders kept their history secret rather than be associated with both the ugly rumors and the ugly truths about Malaga, truths like the institutionalization of mixed race islanders – considered by the proponents of eugenics to be intellectually and morally defective – at the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded where they were classified as “imbeciles” or “morons.”…

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