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USM students researching region's complicity in slave trade

A group of USM students are working to shed light in some of the dark corners of New England history.

The students, led by Professor Eve Raimon, are working as citizen historians to track Maine’s 19th-century involvement in the slave trade.

Dr. Eve Raimon

“We don’t think of ourselves as a key part of the slave trade here in Maine,” said USM Professor of English Eve Raimon. “We had a certain complicity.”

Raimon’s students, part of an interdisciplinary Slavery and Public History class, have joined a crowd-sourced initiative called “The Atlantic Black Box Project.” The project empowers communities throughout New England to research and begin reckoning with the region’s role in the global slave trade and the broader economy of enslavement. It’s led by Meadow Dibble and includes the work of USM alumna Kate McMahon, who now serves as a specialist with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History & Culture and its Center for the Study of Global Slavery.

 Dr. Katie McMahon

McMahon, a former student of Raimon’s, now serves as a specialist with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History & Culture and its Center for the Study of Global Slavery. (Photo by Megan Brodie)

Together, Raimon, McMahon and Dibble are helping USM students explore old records, particularly the archives of the Eastern Argus. The 19th-century newspaper, a precursor to the Portland Press Herald, featured a shipping news column that described the traffic in Portland Harbor including the ships, their destinations and their cargo.

Through examining the traffic in the busy port, they are learning that some Portland ships supplied slave plantations and, in at least one case, broke the laws of the era by actually transporting slaves.

“Students are universally shocked by what they are learning,” Raimon said.