Maine has always been a FREE state. It entered the union Free and remained Free. No segregation ever existed in Maine. Schools, churches, buses, public buildings, sporting activities, and even drinking fountains belonged to everyone. No signs were ever posted on a restaurant door that excluded patrons of African American descent. No signs hung anywhere in the state of Maine that differentiated between its citizens and the privileges they enjoyed. Voting was never an issue. African Americans were voters and they were active in Maine’s political parties. There were no Jim Crow laws in the state of Maine. In fact, the only – and last – law relating to African Americans was repealed in 1795 – long before Maine became a state – and that law was in reference to marriage between White and Black citizens. In 1795, intermarriage was declared legal.
African American Christians and Maine’s Churches
The Church in Bangor, Maine
Because they were few in number, and because they were rooted in a variety of religious denominations, African Americans in Bangor did not have a Black church. In fact, the absence of an historically or predominately Black church is a hallmark of Black religious life in the city. As Sterling Dymond Jr., explained in Randall Kenan’s Walking on Water.
“No we never had a Black church or what Portland had. They went to all different churches. I’m Episcopalian. They had a Baptist church and Methodist church and some went to the Pentecostal church. They never all went to one church. Never crossed our minds. Never thought about having a church of our own. Not until we got grown up, you know, after the war. That’s when they first encountered Black churches. But Portland always had a Black church.”
One of the glaring differences in Black Bangor’s religious life and that of Blacks in comparable New England cities is the absence of a historically or a predominately African American church. Newport, Rhode Island hosted four historically or predominately Black churches: Union Congregational Church, Mt. Zion A.M.E. Zion Church, Shiloh Baptist Church, and Mt. Olivet Baptist Church. Typical church activities included strawberry socials, picnics, and other engagements designed to broaden the imagination and cultivate the mind.
Although Blacks in Bangor, Maine did not have their own churches, when they traveled out of state and visited Black churches in their same denominations, they did not necessarily prefer them nor find their own churches lacking in comparison. Sterling Dymond, Jr., explained:
“I was in Washington D. C., way back in the ‘40s. Visit my sister and went to her church, and heck she goes to the Episcopal church, and it was just the same as the service I had here, I was very disappointed. Just like being in my own church here.”
In Bangor, African Americans attended churches across Protestant denominations, from the quiet Episcopal to the more stirring Congregational and Pentecostal. Most Blacks attended St. John’s Episcopal, Grace Methodist Episcopal, All Souls Congregational, Hammond Street Congregational, and Columbia Street Baptist Church. There was never an indication they were unwelcome or relegated to any particular part of the church, whether in the back, along the sides, or in the galleries. Church membership was dictated by family background and residential location more than any race or class. In Maine’s churches Blacks were treated with the greatest sense of equality.