One of Portland’s oldest elementary schools has been renamed for Gerald Talbot, a civil rights champion, community leader and the state’s first Black legislator.

Riverton Elementary School, which is located off Forest Avenue in the city’s Riverton neighborhood, will now be called the Gerald E. Talbot Community School. The school was renamed during a ceremony Monday morning.

Talbot, the founding president of Portland’s chapter of the NAACP, challenged racial discrimination in Portland’s rental housing market and was a key figure in the passage of the Maine Fair Housing bill, the Maine Human Rights Act and the creation of the Maine Human Rights Commission. In August 1963, Talbot was among a group of notable Mainers who participated in the March on Washington during which Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Riverton Elementary opened in 1976 both as a school and community center. The elementary school has a diverse population that includes special needs students and English Language Learners.

 

Gerald Talbot cuts a ribbon with the help of his great-grandson Demetrius Brown-Phillip at the former Riverton Elementary School on Monday. The school has been renamed the Gerald E. Talbot Community School in honor of Talbot, the first Black person elected to the state Legislature. Talbot is an educator, author, military veteran, civil rights activist and the founding president of the Portland chapter of the NAACP. At left is Ann Hanna, principal of the Gerald E. Talbot Community School. Brown-Phillip is a third-grader at the school. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana spoke at the ceremony and said that with the new name “we continue your work by tirelessly removing those barriers to opportunity for all of our students, and giving them the tools they need to continue to change the world for the better.”

Talbot, 89, said he was humbled by the honor. He talked to students about the value of education, and urged all people to help others who might be less fortunate, frail or disadvantaged to show that “we all matter.”

Gerald Talbot laughs while speaking during a renaming ceremony at the former Riverton Elementary School on Monday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“Whether you’re black or white, or green or red, we’re all people and we all need the same thing – equality,” he said.

“Each and every one of us is important, but we’re not important if we don’t help other people,” Talbot said.

Maine Commissioner of Education Pender Makin and Portland Mayor Kate Snyder attended the ceremony and praised Talbot for striving to make positive changes in society.

The Portland Board of Public Education voted unanimously in February to rename Riverton in honor of Talbot.

Talbot was born in Bangor and joined the U.S. Army after graduating from high school. Following his discharge, Talbot and his wife settled in Portland, where at first he found it difficult to find housing and a job because of his race.

According to a biography on the Americans Who Tell the Truth website, Talbot was well known for touring the state with a vast collection of artifacts and other items of note that reflected the experience of Blacks in Maine. Talbot visited hundreds of schools, churches, synagogues, businesses and clubs with his traveling exhibit.

He became the first Black person to be elected to the Maine Legislature in 1972 and also served as chair the Maine State Board of Education.

Monday’s event fell on the birthday of one of Talbot’s daughters, Rachel Talbot Ross, who currently serves in the Legislature. Like her father, she has served as a leader of the Portland NAACP.


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