CAPE ELIZABETH – A few years ago, my wife and I explored the beautiful grounds and buildings of Pineland.

When the facility opened in 1908, it was called the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded. One can only imagine the stories that remain trapped inside those walls.

In our search, we came upon a cemetery, and noticed an area in the back with small, ordinary headstones.

A granite marker read simply: “Nov. 1912 — The people living on Malaga Island, New Meadows River, Maine were relocated — The people buried on the island were moved to Pineland’s Cemetery.”

COMPELLED TO FIND OUT

Something compelled us to find out what this was, and why it happened. We knew nothing of the Malaga story or even where the island was located. The search began with the Internet, finding many references past and present.

A visit to the Maine Historical Society allowed us to examine official documents. We were fortunate to talk with William David Barry, author of “The Shameful Story of Malaga Island,” who added depth and personal insight into the events of the early 20th century.

We drove to the area, viewing the island as it sits a few hundred yards from the shore, with no sign of life or activity. We discovered most people knew little or nothing at all about the events that took place there: evictions, burning of houses, relocating the school house to Loud’s Island, or committing Malagaites to Pineland.

Even fewer people knew that the buried remains of Malaga ancestors were dug up, transported to Pineland and interred in the tiny cemetery in hopes of removing any final reason for the evicted residents to return.

The lessons to be learned and remembered from Malaga are not about shame or even racism.

Discrimination and intolerance are not limited to Malaga, or even Maine. Countless acts of prejudice fill our history books.

They serve as brutal reminders of how easily people become marginalized, how voices can be unheard, and of dangerous allure of financial gain. Malaga is a reminder that fear and hysteria can delude well meaning citizens to commit unthinkable acts.

For nearly 100 years, no official recognition of these transgressions had occurred. No apologies were offered; not even an acknowledgement that mistakes were made.

That changed, thanks to the efforts of Rep. Herb Adams, D-Portland, who sponsored a resolution, passed by the Legislature in April, formally expressing the state’s “profound regret” for the events that took place. We are extremely grateful to Rep. Adams and all who supported his resolution for coming to terms with this issue.

Our compliments to Bill Nemitz for his sensitive account in The Press Herald headlined, “Peace at last: Long overdue apology for Malaga.”

He captured the essence of a complicated story in a powerful manner. The photos of Gov. Baldacci on Malaga Island provide a stark contrast to the earlier images of then Frederick W. Plaisted, who subsequently ordered the eviction and desecration of Malaga in 1912.

BE A REMINDER

Let us hope this story will serve as a reminder that our society is only as strong as the weakest of our citizens.

It is not about black or white, rich or poor. It is about “us” and how we choose to deal with our differences, our similarities and whether or not we will teach our children to avoid the mistakes of our past.

Perhaps the lesson to be learned is best expressed in the words of Nelson Mandela, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”