History 332

An African American Community in Maine:  Uncovering communities within communities

  • Maureen Elgersman Lee, Black Bangor:  African Americans in a Maine Community, 1880-1950 (2005).

Further reading:

  • H.H. Price and Gerald E. Talbot, Maine’s Visible Black History:  The First Chronicle of Its People (2006).  Reserve
  • Maureen Elgersman Lee, “‘What They Lack in Numbers’:  Locating Black Portland, 1870-1930,” in Joseph A. Conforti, ed., Creating Portland:  History and Place in Northern New England (2005), 218-246.  e-Reserve


In Black Bangor, Maureen Elgersman Lee explores a small but vibrant African American community in Bangor from 1890 to 1940.

  • How does she organize her study?  Why did she choose that particular organization, both within and between chapters?  What does it emphasize and illuminate?  Toward what argument(s) is she building?  What are some of the unintended consequences or disadvantages of that organization?  How else might she have organized it?
  • What sources does she use to uncover the origins and lives of the members Bangor’s black community?  In her discussion and analysis, what do these resources reveal?  What are the limits to what they reveal?
  • As Taylor sought to achieve with Cooperstown, how does Lee attempt to keep her history from being “relentlessly local”?
  • Within a local, statewide, and national context of racial discrimination, what opportunities for work and employment did African-American residents find in Bangor?  What opportunities were they able to create?  What conclusions can she draw about quality of their work experiences, their acceptance or frustration about their options, or the connections between employment opportunities and family and community life?
  • What patterns and trends does she find in the residential enclaves in which African Americans lived?  How does she pull these together to suggest the various informal activities that help to create and sustain a community within a community?
  • What institutions did African American residents create for themselves in Bangor? How did that collective effort and the consequent institutions evolve over time?  What kind of identity did those institutions and voluntary activities foster, or attempt to foster for the Black community in Bangor?  To what extent was that identity local, regional, and national?
  • What does it mean to be a community within a community?   What similarities can you detect between the African American community in Bangor and the experience of Salem Village within Salem Town?  How might we use her study and analysis to inform and help us frame our examination of Bowdoin as a community in Brunswick?