There’s a tired, old, yet increasingly ominous trend in education rearing its ugly head in many areas of the country right now — censorship. Literature and history — disciplines focused on enriching perspectives — are in the crosshairs.

As director of Pejepscot History Center, the fourth oldest historical organization in Maine, I have the privilege of overseeing a collection of more than 100,000 items that contain real treasures of American history — such as a 1799 special edition newspaper about the death of George Washington, letters signed by John Adams and Maine regimental Civil War banners that hung in Brunswick’s old Town Hall.

The Trenton Flint & Spar Co. Mill and office on the Cathance River, Topsham, as seen Aug. 22, 1890. This photograph was taken by one of Pejepscot History Center’s founders and Brunswick hardware store owner John Furbish. According to his handwritten note on the back, it was “my first attempt at picture taking.” Contributed photo via Pejepscot History Center

But there are thousands of items in the collection that have received far less, or no, attention. They are just as relevant — if not more at this moment in time — to the American story. Examples include an 18th-century store ledger from Topsham listing purchases by Quash, a free Black man; the diaries of Harry F. Thompson, which reveal his struggles living with deep feelings for another man; wage slips for individual women working at the textile mills in the 19th century.

There are also items that tell uncomfortable stories but that shed light on the past and the present, such as a 1923 ticket to a Ku Klux Klan meeting in Brunswick’s Town Hall. It admits one for a talk on “Americanism” by an unnamed, but nationally known speaker “fighting for clean homes, clean politics, and a clean state.”

A 1763 land deed between two European colonists, regarding a parcel that had previously passed through Indigenous hands, shows how little the colonizers wanted to deal with the Wabanaki population and tribal beliefs in land rights and usage. An informal note on the back of the deed reads: “The question is whether Indian Deeds is good in any part of the government or ever was good without a liberty from the general Court for making purchase.”

Or search our photograph collection using the term “blackface” — the offensive, minstrel-origin practice of white people using makeup to create an offensive caricature of a Black person — and you’ll find several highly problematic images.


One is a sepia-toned photograph from Brunswick’s 150th anniversary parade of the so-called “Darktown 3 Fire Co.” There had been no such fire brigade in the town. According to the catalog description, the assemblage — all in blackface astride a fire wagon — was re-creating a Currier & Ives print.

Even that 1799 newspaper about George Washington’s death has within its pages a “For Sale” advertisement for a “stout, healthy, active Negro wench.”

Items like this are disturbing and painful. However, we would never purposely hide nor censor any of the historical material under our care. The “bad” history is just as important as the good — perhaps even more so. Of course, it must be presented — whether to researchers, students or the general public — in an appropriate, carefully controlled context.

For the last several years, Pejepscot History Center has made concerted efforts to dig deeper and ask harder and more provocative questions about what’s been collected since our founding, what’s missing and what we can share with our community members to enlarge their perspectives. We even named our after-school program “Untold Stories.”

It’s unfortunate that those in powerful positions across the country — not to mention school boards and political positions in our state — fear teaching and learning about people unlike themselves, or about history they find discomforting. Hiding from history of any kind is irrational, damaging and truly boring. Talk about an old, tired story.

Those of us who work in museums and historical societies are grateful to discover any part of our collections that illuminates a little-known past — good, bad or ugly. Hidden stories must be shared, not shoved aside.

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