Gerald E. Talbot - Civil and Human Rights Advocate, Legislator

Gerald E. Talbot was born October 28, 1931, in Bangor, Maine to Wilmont Talbot, head chef at the Bangor House, and Arvella (McIntyre) Talbot, a homemaker and active community organizer. The eldest of five children, Jerry became the eighth generation of Talbots living in Maine, which included Revolutionary War veteran Abraham Talbett as an ancestor. Jerry attended Hannibal Hamlin Grammar School, Lagen Street Grammar School, and Bangor High School, graduating in 1952.


After graduation, he worked with his father at the Bangor House and traveled to Portland on the weekend. At one of those high school football games, he was introduced to his future wife, Anita.


Jerry enlisted in the Army in 1953 and was assigned to Fort Dix and then Fort Devens, near Boston. He served in the Army for five years throughout Europe. After leaving the Army, Jerry married Anita Cummings. Jerry and Anita settled in Portland. They faced racial discrimination and were denied housing accommodation and employment. This set seeds of understanding that would later manifest into lifelong advocacy for fair housing laws, livable wages, and equality. 


Jerry supported his family by working between various jobs, which included working as a custodian at the Community Center on Free Street in Portland. In 1964, he began working at the Maine Printing Company as a press operator, and in 1966 began working for the Guy Gannett Publishing Company until retirement in 1991.


After attending the 1963 March on Washington, Jerry was inspired to put his activism to work and become politically involved. He helped organize the Portland, Maine chapter of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a national civil rights organization. He was elected as founding president due to his experience in activism and the fact that he was born and raised in Maine. He would go on to serve as Portland NAACP President from 1970-71 and 1978-80 and serve as the vice president of the New England Regional NAACP. 


Jerry was instrumental in the passage of the Maine Fair Housing Bill in 1965, joining with NAACP chapters to support a community struggling with housing throughout the sixties. He connected with other civil rights leaders at national levels to assist in supporting voter registration and rights. Jerry also participated in the lunch counter protests. 


In the historic election of 1972, he was the first Black person elected to the Maine legislature. He would also become the first Black chair of a legislative committee, chairing the Human Resources Committee for two terms and the first Black speaker pro-tem of the Maine House of Representatives, serving three terms until 1978. 


After leaving the legislature, he served on the Maine State Board of Education from 1980-1984, chairing the Board his final year, and also served on the New England States Board of Education Commission. A Board of Trustee member for the Maine Vocational Technical Institute, the University of New England, the Maine State Committee on Aging, a committee member of AARP at both the local and national levels, and a member of the Muskie Board of Visitors at the University of Maine all exemplify Jerry’s tireless service to education in Maine. 


Jerry and Anita have been married for 68 years and raised four daughters: Sharon Renee Verloo, Rachel Talbot Ross, Regina Phillips, and Robin Talbot. The ninth and tenth generations of Talbots in Maine now include seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. 


Jerry was awarded the Jefferson Award for Public Service In 1980, and in 1995 was presented with an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from the University of Southern Maine. In 2010 he received a lifetime achievement award from the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine. In 2019, the University of Southern Maine announced the creation of the Talbot Fellowship in his honor, and in 2021 he was awarded an additional Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from St. Joseph College.


On February 5, 2020, the Portland School Board voted unanimously to change the name of Riverton Elementary School to the Gerald E. Talbot Community School. Jerry and his grandson, Demetrius Brown-Phillips, who was also a school student, and family and friends attended the ribbon cutting together. Shortly after Jerry’s 90th birthday in 2021, Second Street Park in Bangor was renamed Talbot Park at a ceremony where Talbot was also given the keys to the city.


A resident of Maine Veterans’ Homes, Scarborough, Jerry loves Blues music, and his favorite holiday is Valentine’s Day. He says that he is “always happy” and can’t understand being sad.