In the mid-1920s, the Ku Klux Klan reached its apex of influence in Maine, even capturing the governor’s office in 1924. The targets of the Klansmen's ire were not so much African-Americans, of which there were relatively few, but Catholics and immigrants, particularly of the French-Canadian variety, who had come streaming across the northern border to work in the state’s textile, paper and lumber mills. Many did not speak English, which did not stop them from taking American jobs. Earlier this month, Paul LePage defeated Mike Michaud to win re-election as Maine’s governor. During the campaign LePage hammered away at illegal immigration, taking particular umbrage at the placement with host families of eight children who had fled from Central America. Michaud was more silent on the issue, but it’s worth considering that both men descend from French-Canadian families that were the objects of the Klan protests not that many generations ago.
In fact, whatever you may think of LePage as governor, he has a singularly compelling biography. The eldest of 18 children of an abusive French-speaking millworker, he left home at the age of 11, after his father had shattered his nose, and lived for several years on the streets of Lewiston, finding work where he could. He failed his first college admission test because of poor English skills, and only passed after a benefactor persuaded Husson College to give him the test in French – interesting in light of today’s “English-only” movement.
It’s a true story and, somehow, this morning it seemed worth telling.