September 12, 2010

From Southern roots, a lesson in tolerance

By Susan M. Cover
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA - Democratic gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell doesn't often talk about her Southern roots, preferring instead to emphasize her time in Maine, where she and her husband, Jim, have lived since 1971.

They still live in the Vassalboro farmhouse they purchased when they settled here, and all four of their adult children have returned to Maine to work and live.

In 2009, however, during the Legislature's debate on same-sex marriage, Mitchell delivered a passionate floor speech about growing up in the South.

She stepped down from the Senate president's rostrum and broke her silence about whether she would vote in favor of same-sex marriage.

"I went to a school where you weren't even allowed to dance because that made you have evil thoughts," she said, according to a Senate transcript. "Believe me, it was a very strict Southern Baptist upbringing. When I go home to visit my relatives, I won't be able to tell them very much about what happened here in Maine today because they still don't understand.

"I also grew up in a South where I drank out of whites-only water fountains. I went to an all-white school and the worst part of it was, I thought that was OK because that is the way the world was. Things changed and somehow my sister and I managed, even though she is still there, to learn tolerance, to learn the importance of people's individuality, and respecting them from whence they came."

She then mentioned her husband, an Arkansas native who today is the Kennebec County probate judge.

"My husband went to school at Central High School in Little Rock when it was closed," she said. "People weren't so concerned necessarily about that because they still played football all season even though they didn't have a school to go to. That was because some little black children wanted to go into the school."

Mitchell continued her speech by talking about her support for same-sex marriage.

She voted in favor of the law; it was later repealed by voters.

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