“I felt fighting discrimination was the most important thing I could do as an elected official. I said then, and I believe now, that any doctrine of superiority is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous.”
Gerald, or Jerry as he is known to his friends, was born in Bangor, Maine to Arvella and W. Edgerton Talbot. He was the eldest of five children and the eighth generation born in Maine. Jerry´s parents instilled a strong work ethic in their children, a commitment to education and life-long learning, and an appreciation for the inherent dignity and value of all human beings. He enjoyed growing up in a racially and economically diverse neighborhood that he believes gave him the best example of what it means to live in a safe, fair and just environment.
After serving in the Army and marrying Anita Cummings, Talbot and his wife settled down in Portland, Maine. Finding a job and housing proved difficult for a black family in Portland, but, eventually, Jerry began a career as a printer for Maine’s largest newspaper as he and Anita, who also worked, raised their four daughters. The challenging times provided them with determination to fight against prejudice and oppression in all its forms.
Jerry became a passionate advocate for civil and human right 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. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, Jerry knew that the time was right to revive the NAACP in Portland. In May of that year, he was elected its first president and went on to serve two more terms. During his tenure, he was a leading figure in the passing of the Maine Fair Housing Bill and the Maine Human Rights Act.
Talbot realized that it was vital to work at the policy level to better insure civil rights for all Mainers, and in 1968, Governor Kenneth Curtis appointed him to a task force on Human Rights. His passion and energy for public led him to become the first African American legislator in the State of Maine. He was elected to the first of three terms in 1972.
In his role as Representative Talbot, Jerry introduced numerous bills and engaged public conversation on a variety of issues not traditionally addressed. Gun control, the treatment of migrant workers, tribal sovereignty, fair housing, and creating a holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. were just a few. Talbot sponsored the first gay rights legislation and had the word “nigger” removed from all maps and geographical designations in Maine.
Talbot knew that educating people about the African American experience was crucial to understanding and equality. He 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. Jerry 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.
In 1995, the University of Southern Maine awarded Gerald E. Talbot an honorary Doctor in Humane Letters degree and dedicated an auditorium in his name. The auditorium has the distinction of being the only public space named after an African American in the state of Maine.
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.
Talbot serves on the Board of Visitors of the Edmund S. Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine and on the Board of Trustees of the University of New England.
Gerald E. Talbot has made significant and lasting social, economic and political contributions to the people of Maine and to this nation. His strong moral character coupled with an unwavering commitment to human rights and love for family has given us an American who courageously tells the truth and a champion for equality, justice and peace.
Americans Who Tell the Truth (AWTT) offers a variety of ways to engage with its portraits and portrait subjects. Host an exhibit, use our free lesson plans and educational programs, or engage with a member of the AWTT team or portrait subjects.
AWTT has educational materials and lesson plans that ask students to grapple with truth, justice, and freedom.
AWTT encourages community engagement programs and exhibits accompanied by public events that stimulate dialogue around citizenship, education, and activism.