Book Review: Black Bangor

I grew up in Bangor (pronounced bain-gore, not bang-er), a small town in the state of Maine.  To say the very least, it is not a place with a great deal of diversity.  It is, in fact, the second whitest state after Vermont (edit: apparently it took the title from Vermont at some point -Matt 3/14/23).  But growing up, I used to hear about how the neighborhood I lived in used to be a Black and Irish area.  I knew there had been a time when there was a Black community in my hometown and that at some point there wasn’t.  However, I didn’t know any of the actual story.  Thanks to Maureen Elgersman Lee’s book, now I have a sense of it.

This book mostly covers the 1880s to the late 1940s.  It looks at where people came from, what they were doing, where they actually lived, and more.  What I came to find out is that there really wasn’t a “Black Neighborhood” as Bangor didn’t seem to be especially segregated, at least from a geographic standpoint.  However, the Parker Street neighborhood (where I grew up) was an important area.

I learned a lot from the book, some stuff was really surprising.  Some sadly, not so much. This is not, however, what I’d call a Popular History book.  The information is granular, diving into extreme detail.  There’s literally lists of people’s property, how much they paid for it, what they bought to furnish it, where they bought the furniture, how much they paid for it, etc.  Elgersman Lee has done her research, pulling together information that can’t have been easy to find, for so many reasons.  Not the least of which the two fires that destroyed a good deal of property and records.

I imagine this book would be a fantastic aid for someone doing research on the history of the city of Bangor, including maybe genealogical research.  I’m into weird details and slice-of-life aspects of history, so honestly the costs of goods, the locations of social clubs and that sort of thing fascinates me.  So I did enjoy this book.  I just don’t know that I can recommend it for someone who isn’t looking for very detailed, very granular information.

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