Descendants of Malaga Island Community Honored With New Monument
A dark, once-covered up stain on Maine’s history — the systematic exile and mysterious deaths of the Malaga Island community — was made permanent and visible last week through a monument unveiling at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester.
The monument bears the names of the mixed-race Mainers who were victimized as part of the eugenics movement of the 1900s and forced to leave their homes by the state. Institutions like the state government and the local media dehumanized this community of 40 or so people by describing them as "homeless", "feeble-minded," "half-breeds," and "queer folk." Multiple decades later, descendants of the original families are subject to racial slurs like "Malagalite."
Today the new monument offers healing and closure from a time where systemic racism had deep roots in Maine.
A small crowd made up of Malaga Island descendants, Governor Paul LePage, and Rev. Holly Morrison of the Phippsburg Congregational Church gathered for somber reflection and a viewing of the new monument.
According to Kate McBrien, a historian of Malaga Island and chief curator at the Maine Historical Society, the history of this community and its impact on descendants has long been covered up.
"It's long been a secret, a hidden part of Maine’s history," said McBrien. "With the removal of any remaining buildings, as well as the bodies of those buried in the island’s cemetery, the State tried to erase all evidence of the people who lived there. Many in the Phippsburg area communities as well as the Malaga families themselves buried the history for generations, denying any connection to the island. But history cannot remain hidden forever. Current generations have discovered their connection and the state has accepted responsibility for its role in the removal and destruction of the Malaga community. This monument ensures that the people who lived on Malaga Island will never be forgotten again."
The monument, which stands six feet tall and cost $30,000 to construct ($24,000 of which was taken out of LePage's discretionary portion of the state budget), seeks to confront Maine’s shameful past.
LePage speaking to the crowd in front of the new Malaga Island Monument. Photo By Adrienne Bennett, the Governor's Press Secretary.
News of this symbolic gesture wasn’t met with widespread laudation online. Some commented that due to his history of racially insensitive remarks, Governor Paul LePage wasn’t the best choice of person to commemorate the monument, despite his office funding the project. The Governor also mentioned his Malaga 1912 Scholarship Fund, managed by the Maine Community Foundation, and set up to benefit descendants of the island's residents who can prove their ancestry. It's set up from now until 2020.
Back in 2012, when the Maine State Museum hosted an exhibit on Malaga Island called “Fragmented Lives,” LePage offered an apology on behalf of the state.
“To the descendants,” he declared, “I will tell you as a governor, I will say, we apologize for this hardship we have caused you. We did similar things to the Native Americans here. And, frankly, ten years after Malaga Island was destroyed, the largest Ku Klux Klan rally in the history of the United States was right here in Maine, against the French Catholics coming down here from Quebec. So, we understand. We have been part of it as well. So, my sincerest apology on behalf of the people of Maine to the descendants.”
McBrien and others thought that LePage's involvement with the project was both powerful and necessary.
“I believe it was very appropriate for Governor LePage to be at the dedication ceremony today,” said McBrien. “The memorial itself was his idea and his suggestion. He also contributed the most money towards the creation of the monument. He was also the person to create a scholarship fund for the descendants of the Malaga Island community and has been committed to seeing that continue. The speech he gave today was spot on and from the heart.”
What turned Casco Bay green?
Green slime all over Mill Creek. Photo By Emily Haggett of Friends of Casco Bay.
The unsightly green slime that showed up in parts of Casco Bay last year is back, earlier and greener than before.
Researchers from the Friends of Casco Bay have been monitoring the green slime — or as they know it, algal blooms — since last year, when they originally thought it was due to the drought conditions. Now they’re working fastidiously to determine what caused the blight this time in areas like Back Cove, Antoine Creek, and Mill Creek.
“We hoped last year's weather conditions made it an anomaly,” said Ivy Frignoca, the Casco Baykeeper at Friends of Casco Bay. “But our theory that maybe the drought conditions caused the blooms didn’t turn out to be correct.”
According to Frignoca, algal blooms are a result of high amounts of nitrogen and a significant drop in pH levels. But the underlying causes are still unknown.
“We don’t know now what’s causing the blooms to occur,” said Frignoca. “It could be a change in chemistry and weather patterns. It’s a symptom of a problem we’re trying to figure out.”
The reason why green slime concerns researchers is because it kills clams, which further impacts the overall health of the bay.
“All the clams were sticking their necks out, they were really stressed out,” said Frignoca. “By the second week, they were all dead. We’re just curious what the algae mass is doing to the health of the tidal flats.”
A very stressed out clam. Photo Courtesy of Friends of Casco Bay.
High amounts of nitrogen are believed to be caused by human activity, whether it be from storm runoff or the water pouring out of waste-treatment plants in the area. Frignoca asks the public to watch out for algal blooms in other areas and report back findings to the Friends of Casco Bay so they can continue their research.
“If they see these blooms, I hope they let us know,” said Frignoca. “We can't be everywhere on Casco Bay.”
In the meantime, residents concerned about the health of Casco Bay can help by ensuring their pets’ waste doesn’t get into the water and by avoiding the use of lawn fertilizers. If these practices were more widespread, the levels of nitrogen in Casco Bay could be reduced.
Major Maine Media Consolidation Won’t Affect Jobs Or Final Products
Big insider news in the world of Maine media broke last week: Reade Brower, the owner of MaineToday Media (the parent company of the Portland Press Herald) bought out Sun Media Group (the parent company of the Sun Journal, the Forecaster and 16 other publications across the state) for an undisclosed amount, merging the companies under a single ownership and creating undoubtedly the largest media company in Maine.
Sun Media Group was owned by the Costello family for almost a century and spanned four generations of owners. The last owner, Steve Costello, said it was a bittersweet time, but one that felt right.
“We didn’t take this decision lightly,” said Costello. “We’ve partnered with Reade for the past few years in various aspects of the business. It’s worked very well. It evolved into this. We feel good about the fact that he has a very good sense of our same values: community journalism and a commitment to the employees.”
According to Costello, he was told that there would be no staff layoffs, and all of its 225 employees would be offered their jobs at the new company with the same level of pay and benefits.
It seems that readers of Maine newspapers won’t notice much of a difference from this deal, as Sun Media’s publications will still publish under the same name and continue to offer community journalism.
“They’re not looking to make a lot of changes,” said Costello.
MaineToday Media publishes the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and the Coastal Journal, with a combined weekday circulation of about 60,210. Sun Media’s newspapers reach about 300,000 people, which will presumably be added to Brower’s audience once the deal becomes final on August 1, and SunMedia turns into SJ Acquisition, with its operations kept separate from MaineToday Media.
Costello seemed optimistic about the future of his family’s journalistic legacy, and print media in general, so long as MaineToday Media continues to evolve with the changing habits of news consumers — something he believes that the new owners already do quite well.
“Print is evolving into a digital media,” said Costello. “There's still a bright future for community news. Whether it's the Phoenix or the Sun Journal, anybody that provides community journalism will still have a viable product. You just need to change the medium to a digital platform.”
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