Portland, ME

Contact Name
Rachel Talbot Ross
Project Dates
2006 - present
Event, Research, Design, Marketing
To establish a permanently marked walking trail throughout Portland that helps tell the story of the Underground Railroad, abolitionist movement and the historical, cultural and social life of the African American community.
Project Goals
What were the project goals?
Establish a state network of marked sites that acknowledge individual, organizational and community participation in the UGRR and abolitionist movement; Link the state's network of sites to national UGRR routes and the related activities of the National Park Service; Produce scholarship, educational and public awareness materials; Engage the community in the ongoing research, identification and documentation of the UGRR and anti-slavery movement to best interpret, commemorate and preserve this legacy; Advance the public discourse on the many struggles for social justice, economic justice, and human rights - past and present - thereby connecting the history of the UGRR to global movements for freedom; and Collaborate with other efforts to preserve and advance Maine's African American history and culture.
Have they changed over time?
Yes. We are trying to go beyond an effort that is primarily focused on the development of permanent markers - place making - to actively connecting this period of history to the overall history of Maine and current experiences due to the growth of diverse racial and ethnic populations. We are also more committed to building our organizational infrastructure in order to do creative educational and culturally-based community projects and research.
Who are the project partners and stakeholders?
City of Portland, NAACP Portland Branch, Abyssinian Meeting House, Portland Public Schools, Maine Office of Tourism, and members of the creative economy artistic community.
Project Specifics
How was the project implemented? What were the steps taken?
With support from the City of Portland and the NAACP, a small group of dedicated community leaders formed a non-profit initiative n 2006 to establish the Portland Freedom Trail and officially installed the first granite and bronze pedestal marker in the Eastern Cemetery on November 9, 2006. Thirteen more markers were dedicated on July 14, 2007 with another three markers installed on July 2, 2008. Over the years, numerous steps have been taken to institutionalize the effort including hosting public forums and events, fund raising/development, organizational retreats for strategic planning, and marketing/promotional campaigns.
Have they been refined over time?
More emphasis is given on community engagement with the trail and to engage as many youth as possible. we are also developing a core group of youth volunteers to serve as docents.
What were your major obstacles?
Establishing an advisory board and getting the organizational infrastructure in place as well as operating in a climate that lacks a traditional base of support and/or resources to develop an African American historically-based initiative. There is not a large African American community in which natural collaborations would take place. Also, educational institutions were slow to accept this as an educational effort that could influence curriculum and creative modules.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Perseverance and a solid commitment from the organizers. Support from the city government and several leaders in the African American faith community.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1. Strong educational connection
2. Having a good idea is not enough. Have a comprehensive sustainable infrastructure in place.
3. Connect local work to a regional, national and/or global landscape.
Project Impact
How has this project contributed to creative community building?
Has increased the city's walkability and creative place making. Has beautified our public spaces and given business to local artists and stone cutters. Our unifying graphic design features are easily recognizable and promotes a sense of city pride and community creativity.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
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Were there unexpected impacts?
We were surprised with the overall level of public interest measured by the request for the maps, speakers, tours and printed materials. Getting requests from groups located out-of-state surprised us! The greatest impact has been the sense of pride and empowerment from diverse communities throughout the state.