AUGUSTA — Actor Roger Guenveur Smith told a crowd at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine on Friday that the precedent for sexual harassment, exploitation and rape in this country was established by slavery.

Smith, who has appeared in many Spike Lee films, is researching and developing a one-man show based on the father of Anne Frank. His previous work has included a one-man show telling the story of prominent 1800s African-American abolitionist and pioneering feminist Frederick Douglass.

He said Douglass’s speeches still resonate in today’s world. Smith described a letter Douglas wrote to his former master about 10 years after he had been his slave, asking the man how he would feel if someone came to his home, snatched his daughter away, took her wages, claimed her as property, degraded her and stole her virtue.

Smith spoke as much of the nation’s attention focused on whether Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who has been accused of sexually assaulting a woman at a party when the two were in high school, should be appointed to the Supreme Court.

“This is not the time to sit on the fence,” Smith said during his presentation, “Getting to the Truth of the Story,” at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine. “In terms of this particular American moment, Douglass, again, outlined the precedent for sexual harassment, or exploitation, or rape, was born out of this thing called American slavery.

“So when you think about testimony of sexual harassment and rape and attempted rape and drunkenness,” he added, “there’s a precedent for that, and we’re still paying the psychic price for that in this country, if we don’t remember that.”


The Los Angeles-born Smith, whose trip to Maine was funded by a New England Foundation for the Arts grant, also spoke with Gardiner Area High School and Bates College students, and he toured the Holocaust Center’s Michael Klahr Center in Augusta. He also visited the Maine State Museum’s new “Maine + Jewish: Two Centuries” exhibit, which illustrates Jewish life in Maine.

Smith said he wants people who come to his one-man shows, which often focus on racial issues, to leave determined to help protect democracy and liberty, and to vote.

“I want my audiences to step out in the world, engaged and renewed in this process of citizenship, which I think has become, in the last couple of weeks, particularly important,” he told about 20 people gathered to hear him speak Friday afternoon. “We need to renew this commitment to American democracy and the relentless pursuit thereof. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.”

Smith is researching and developing a one-man show on the story of Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank, whose diary recounted the harrowing life of Jews hiding from German troops during the Holocaust. Despite successfully hiding above a business in Amsterdam for two years, the Frank family and others hiding with them eventually were discovered by German troops.

They became separated in concentration camps and Otto Frank learned, after the war, he was the only member of his family to survive. Later he discovered his late daughter’s diary, kept during their time in hiding, at the property where they had hidden, now known as the Anne Frank House. He had the diary published. “The Diary of a Young Girl” was translated into numerous languages, was read widely, and was made into a film.

Smith was in Amsterdam to present his one-man show on Rodney King when he visited the Anne Frank House.


“It was there I imagined Otto Frank returning, with the knowledge he’d lost his wife and, yes, he’d lost his two daughters,” he said. “Then he’s handed a diary his daughter had filled, a gift for her 13th birthday.

“His daughter indicated she wanted to achieve immortality through her writing, Smith added, “and that convinced him his daughter’s work should be shared with the world. He became the guardian of his daughter’s legacy.”

His tour of the Holocaust Center, which is located on the campus of the University of Maine at Augusta, Smith said, would help inform his work on his Otto Frank project. He described the center as a “sanctuary of information, in which we dedicate ourselves to a story that must be told.”

David Greenham, associate director of the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, said he hopes to win grant funding to bring Smith back to Maine to present his Otto Frank show next fall, through a partnership with Holy Cross and Keene State colleges.

Smith has appeared in eight films by filmmaker Spike Lee, including “Do the Right Thing,” and “Malcolm X.” More recently, he has appeared in the movies “Dope” and “The Birth of a Nation,” and his one-man shows include “A Huey P. Newton Story.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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