The College is pleased to announce that Gerald E. Talbot, will be awarded a Honorary Doctorate of Public Service in recognition of his service to society at Commencement on May 8, 2021.
Throughout his life, Mr. Talbot has served Maine and his community as an activist and a leader. As the first president of the Portland chapter of the NAACP, he led the passage of the Maine Fair Housing Bill. In the Maine Legislature, he championed laws protecting migrant workers, fair housing, and tribal sovereignty, and he also sponsored Maine’s first gay rights legislation.
Gerald E. Talbot was born in Bangor, Maine, the eldest of five children and the eighth generation born in Maine.
After serving in the Army and marrying Anita Cummings, Talbot and his wife settled down in Portland, Maine, where they raised four daughters. Talbot began a career as a printer for Maine’s largest newspaper.
Talbot became a passionate advocate for civil and human rights on the local, state and national levels. He participated in marches, rallies and voter registration drives throughout Maine, Washington, D.C., Mississippi and other places in the south. He was one of a handful of Mainers to participate in the March on Washington in 1963. He was elected as the first president of the Portland chapter of the NAACP.
In 1972, he became the first African American to be elected to the Maine State Legislature. During his three terms, he successfully led the passage of the Maine Fair Housing Bill, the Maine Human Rights Act and the “Use of Offensive Names for Geographic Features and Other Places in the State of Maine,” eliminating the n-word from a dozen place names in the state. He also sponsored the first gay rights legislation, gun control, and fought to change the conditions and treatment for migrant workers, advocated for indigenous tribal sovereignty, and created a holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After serving, he was appointed to the Maine State Board of Education in 1980. In 1984, he became chair.
Talbot knew that educating people about the African American experience was crucial to understanding and equality. He collected and toured the state with an amazing collection of artifacts that represented the African American experience, visiting hundreds of schools, churches, synagogues, businesses, organizations, and clubs. He even set up an annual display in the rotunda of the State Capital building. In 1995, he donated this vast body of photographs, papers, and material objects to the University of Southern Maine as a permanent way to teach, and make accessible, African American history. The Gerald E. Talbot Collection serves as the foundation of the African American Collection of Maine. His donation inspired the creation of the Maine Collection and the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity.
Realizing that there was still something missing from the historical landscape, Talbot took on the challenge of writing a book and in 2006, along with co-author H. H. Price, published Maine’s Visible Black History: The First Chronicle of Its People.
In 2020, the Portland City Council unanimously voted to change the name of the Riverton Elementary School to the Gerald E. Talbot Community School, in his honor.