Original Mainers get what's theirs: A major civil rights moment in Maine

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January 17, 2022
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Original Mainers get what's theirs: A major civil rights moment in Maine

A land of contradictions from the outset, the United States was founded by slave owners who spoke passionately and eloquently about liberty, freedom, and justice for all. In the beginning, "all" was limited to men of European ancestry who were wealthy enough to own land. The Constitution's protections did not apply to most of the people living in America for most of America's history—at least not in full.

Women—about 50% of the population—were not included in the country's concept of "all," likewise millions of slaves—and for a long time, their offspring. Native Americans, the descendants of the original inhabitants of the United States, were commonly excluded from the promise of America, as were many immigrants, ethnic groups, and religious minorities.

Despite all the work that remains to be done, all of those groups and many others now enjoy freedoms that had to be won—won through the courts, through the court of public opinion, through mass demonstrations, through legislation, through boycotts, and in many cases, through martyrdom.

Fighting to expand the definition of "all" requires powerless people to challenge the power structures that benefit from keeping certain people locked in their status as second-class citizens. They often do it at great risk to their jobs, their reputations, their homes, and in many cases, their lives. Even so, brave advocates and activists fought the good fight in every state in America. Each state has a unique story to tell about the epic struggles for civil rights that were waged there, as well as those that continue to be waged. The following is a tiny sliver of their collective efforts.

Using a variety of sources, Stacker identified a defining moment for civil rights in all 50 states. They stand out for different reasons and led to changes that lifted different groups, but they all prove how much can be achieved—and how much still remains to be accomplished.

Keep reading to find out your state's contribution to civil rights.

Maine: Original Mainers get what's theirs

Decades of civil rights activism came to fruition when President Carter signed the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act. The legislation awarded the Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Penobscot tribes of Maine $81.5 million in reparations for land that had been stolen from their people. Equally important to the money, the moment served as a recognition of historical injustices and as an inspiration for Native rights advocates across the country.

Click here to see an event from every state or continue reading for other events near Maine.

New Hampshire: MLK gets his due

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a law declaring Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday to be a federal holiday, and most states quickly did the same. A few states held out, but none longer than New Hampshire—with its tiny African American population—which refused to budge for the remainder of the 20th century. Despite compromising with Civil Rights Day in 1993, New Hampshire refused to recognize MLK until 2000, when state officials finally conceded to relentless pressure from local activists.

Vermont: Young Vermonters channel their outrage

In 1968, an assailant fired shots into the home of a Black minister—where a white woman had been staying—and instead of concentrating on the shooting, Vermont State Police officers quickly focused its investigation on the victim and arrested the pair for adultery. The incident sparked widespread outrage and led to the formation of the Vermont-New York City Youth Project, a race-reconciliation exchange program. The project sent Black teenagers from New York City to Vermont to participate in a wide range of social, educational, and recreational projects designed to foster racial unity.

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