Malaga Island: A bittersweet centennial

A photo from Malaga Island in 1882.

AUDIO: Excerpt from Herb Adams speech to descendants of Malaga Islanders, September 2010.

It went almost unnoticed in in the hectic legislative session of April 2010, but a bill I sponsored, formally apologizing to the people of Malaga Island and their descendants, remains one of my proudest achievements.

Malaga is now a beautiful, uninhabited place. 100 years ago this year, it was the scene of a grave injustice.┬áIn the very early 20th century, Malaga was home to a colony of very poor people, most of mixed race, struggling to make a living on an inhospitable scrap of land off the coasts of Phippsburg and Harpswell. Driven by the unsavory racial attitudes of the time and the advent of wealthy vacationers on the Maine coast, Gov. Frederick Plaisted in 1912 “cleaned up” Malaga, moving some of its residents to the Maine Home for the Feeble-Minded and giving the rest a month to pack up and leave. State workers burned down the islanders’ homes and removed the graves from their tiny cemetery.

It’s a disgraceful story, yet one that must be acknowledged if we are to truly honor the struggles of Mainers of color, and move toward a society like the one Martin Luther King envisioned. Later that summer, I was proud to address a gathering that included many descendants of the original Malaga residents, to read them this resolution and to witness then-Gov. John Baldacci telling them “We’re sorry.” As Bill Nemitz described in the Press Herald, there were tears and hugs, and at long last there was healing.

As I said then, “Peace, at last to Malaga. May scientists explore its secrets. May students study its histories. May Mother Nature reclaim her own. And may the old ghosts find peace at last.”

2010 resolution apologizing to people of Malaga Island

The 2010 resolution I sponsored, apologizing to the people of Malaga Island and their descendants. (Click for larger version)

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