The upcoming renovation of the Portland Elks Lodge brings to mind a small but notable episode in Maine’s racial history.

For decades, the Elks accepted only white members. That became a contentious local issue in 1971, when the Deering High School senior class considered holding its senior prom at the lodge on outer Congress Street.

Una Richardson was one of only three African-American students in Deering’s senior class that year. She had the courage to speak out against having the prom at the Elks Club, as did the Portland branch of the NAACP.

“I had a meeting in front of the whole student body … and pled with them that maybe they should change the location,” Richardson recalled, in an interview for the 1994 documentary film, “Anchor of the Soul” that I co-produced.

“The Elks Club was air-conditioned, and it was a fairly new building at the time,” Richardson said. She said that most of her classmates “weren’t concerned with racial issues involving it – and I pretty much was.”

The senior class went ahead with having its prom at the Elks Club. Richardson and some of her classmates joined NAACP members picketing outside the dance. More than 20 years later, she spoke reluctantly about the episode, perhaps because it was still painful.

When you drive on outer Congress Street past the Elks property, remember its segregated past, and the brave high school student who spoke out against racial injustice.

Shoshana Hoose

Portland