UPDATES

Since the production of Malaga Island: A Story Best Left Untold in 2009, three apologies by membes of state government have been made for the events at Malaga. And, a revealing document from 1913 was “discovered.” As the Malaga story continues to unfold, we’ll post updates to the story here.

DOCUMENT PROVIDES CLARIFICATION OF GOVERNMENT’S INTENT

It’s hard to pin down the exact reasons why the Malaga Islanders were evicted. In the documentary, we refer to a “swirling mix” of factors including eugenics, economics, tourism, and the politics of prohibition. That sort of triangulation was born mostly from the lack of a smoking gun, a document like a diary entry or meeting minutes or letters, that clearly spell out Governor Plaisted and his Council’s rationale.

However, Marnie and Del Voter, with the help of local historian and former State Representative Herb Adams, may have found the closest thing to a smoking gun. We wish we’d learned about it at the time of the production of our documentary, but, fortunately, we can present it here. It’s the state-published “Reports of the Committees of the Council, 1911-1912.” The document was found on Google Books, a resource that wasn’t available a few years ago. (A .pdf copy of the document is below.)

This 1913 publication is a kind of “annual report.” It summarizes the highlights in the year of governance from the governor’s perspective. The report covers education, prisons, and libraries, among other topics. Of interest to the Malaga discussion is the report from the Committee on State Beneficiaries and Pensions. In that section, the Council gives an account of their rationale behind the eviction at Malaga.

In short, the Council felt state government was paying too much to support paupers throughout Maine – especially in Frenchboro, Athens, and Malaga, towns they called a “blot upon the state.” they considered many of the recipients of state aid to be freeloaders or, in their words: “a drain on the treasury [that encourages]… around them a thriftless, lazy gang, to help them in consuming supplies furnished by the commonwealth.”

As for Malaga, the report states: "after viewing conditions (on Malaga), it was decided at a council meeting shortly after, that the good of the state and the cause of humanity demanded that the colony be broken up and the people segregated. The inhabitants then numbered about 56, a large part of whom were state paupers. It was decided that to rid the island of its population, and to prevent further squatting, that the state should hold a title to the property..."

That’s the clearest statement we’ve seen regarding the state’s motives for purchasing the island and evicting the community. It contradicts the governor’s initial public response to his visit to the island where he said, in effect, the islanders should be helped, not removed.

The question remains, however, what exactly caused the shift? Was it merely that the governor needed to sleep on the issue? Did other members of the Council persuade the governor to change his mind? Who and why? And, where does the Perry family fit into this? The Perry’s owned the island in 1911. Who contacted who first – did the Council make its decision and then reach out to the Perry’s? Or were the Perry’s part of the decision making process?

To be clear, this rationale for the eviction does not rule out motivations that remain unstated. To be sure, governor Plaisted and his council were men of their time.

Perhaps reporter Allen Breed said it best when we interviewed him in 2007 on the takeaway for the Malaga story.

“It’s a slice of a moment in time,” he replied. “It’s a time when the words ‘moron’ and ‘idiot’ were medical diagnoses. It’s a time when blacks and whites weren’t supposed to be living together in the same household. The races, even in the north that was supposedly so enlightened, even blacks and whites weren’t supposed to be living together. It just wasn’t done. And, it’s a time when the state and local governments were wrestling with what to do about the poor people in their midst and whose responsibility it was to care for those less fortunate and in need. Unfortunately, in the case of Malaga Island, a lot of very nasty things were done in the name of the greater good and social improvement. .

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