Professor of Literature, University of Maine-Farmington

he/him

Michael K. Johnson teaches courses in American literature, multicultural literature, and African American literature. He is the author of several books, including a biography of Montana-born African American singer Taylor Gordon, "Can’t Stand Still: Taylor Gordon and the Harlem Renaissance," published in 2019.

Along with Kalenda Eaton and Jeannette Jones, Johnson is the co-editor of “New Directions in Black Western Studies,” a special issue of the "Journal of American Studies." Most recently he is a co-editor (with Kerry Fine, Rebecca Lush, and Sara Spurgeon) of "Weird Westerns: Race, Gender, Genre.” Johnson has been living in Maine for 22 years and is originally from Tennessee.

Talks

James Weldon Johnson and the Spirituals Revival of the 1920s

Civil rights activist and poet James Weldon Johnson was also a major figure in early twentieth-century music. Co-writer with brother J. Rosamond Johnson of the enduring anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” Johnson also helped bring about a revolution in the understanding and reception of African American spirituals in the 1920s as a serious and distinctively American contribution to world folk music. My talk examines the impact of The Book of American Negro Spirituals, an anthology of spirituals collected and arranged by the Johnson brothers and promoted nationally and internationally by a series of concerts featuring tenor Taylor Gordon.


Afrofuturist Westerns

Afrofuturism looks both backwards and forwards, taking into account the realities of the African American past as it also maps out the African American future. My talk looks at the way Afrofuturist texts use the science fiction convention of time travel to reexamine an often forgotten element of American history: African American experience in the American West. Time travel adventures to the historical West help us remember Black western heroes (such as U. S. Marshal Bass Reeves) and offer new perspectives on the tragedies of Black western history (such as the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921).


Life Writing and the Recovery of African American History

Biographical writing has often replicated social hierarchies, telling the stories of famous figures and “great men” and ignoring the life histories of women and people of color. Drawing on my own biographical writing about the African American Gordon family (who were pioneer settlers in Montana), my talk argues for the importance of biography as means of recovering historical African American figures whose stories have been neglected. The stories of siblings Taylor and Rose Gordon, respectively a nearly-forgotten singer and a contributing writer to a Montana newspaper, reveal the value of listening for the voices that biographical writing too often doesn’t hear.

Founder and Director, Franco-American Women’s Institute

she/her/elle

Rhea Côté Robbins was brought up bilingually in a Franco-American neighborhood in Waterville known as the South End. Côté Robbins is the author of creative nonfiction, memoirs titled, ‘down the Plains,’ and Wednesday’s Child, winner of the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance Chapbook Award.

She is editor of Canuck and Other Stories, an anthology of translations of early 20th century Franco-American women writers who wrote about their immigration experience. Her poems and essays have appeared in many publications. She is the founder and director of the Franco-American Women’s Institute, FAWI.

Talks

Who Gets To Tell Story? 

Telling or hearing story while conscious of the human ecology—listening to story justly with social consciousness of equality. I would like to define what qualifies as “story.”  I believe essentially that every person, artifact, ritual, etc. is story.  Everything we know comes to us via story; we are surrounded by story.  Story is the microcosm of the macrocosm. Who, in the cultural milieu, gets to tell story?


Where Are the Franco-American Women in Your Community?

Using a Franco-American woman’s search and research as a model to address the issue of what, if any Franco-American woman wanted to know about Franco-American women and their history, where would they begin if they were not told or not allowed to know and value the contributions of the Franco-American women’s history?


Franco-American Women, Suffrage and Political Activity

What was Camille Lessard Bissonnette doing to promote women’s suffrage in 1910-1911, and what barriers did she face?  What was happening across the border in the QC/Canadian women’s suffrage movement, which started in 1912?  And who were the Franco-American women of Maine who served in the Maine State Legislature starting in 1935?  The lives of these women illustrate the history of women’s suffrage here, connects the present, and helps us understand how we got here.

Historian, Educator

he/him

Paul Buck is a Professor of History and Education at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. He has a doctorate in U.S. and Canadian history from the University of Maine, which he completed in 2008. Paul is proficient in English, French, Spanish, German, Russian, and Wolof. 

He has either studied or taught over the course of four academic years in French Canada (Québec City), Russia (Voronezh), and Senegal (Dakar). Paul enjoys participating in his adopted community of St. Agatha, particularly in local organizations that promote and celebrate the French language and the Acadian and Franco-American culture of the St. John Valley.

Talks

Webster-Ashburton Treaty (1842) and Maine’s Northern Border 

Paul’s presentation examines the different perspectives of Maine statehood and of Maine culture as seen through the prism of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, which definitively established the boundary between British North America and the United States.

Paul explores the treaty itself and its impact on the singular Acadian and Francophone community of the St. John Valley, which found itself split into two countries. He gives historical context as well, most certainly commencing with the long-standing Maliseet and Mi’kmaq communities of the region, along with Scots-Irish and, by the 1820s, of Maine Yankee residents

President, Board of Directors, Abyssinian Meeting House

she/her

Pamela Cummings is President of the Board of Directors and Director of Education Programs for The Abyssinian Meeting House. She is also the writer of two books and the founder of A Walk Back in Time, a theatrical walk retracing the footsteps of enslaved people in Portland, Maine. She is proud mother of Lindsey Alston DAndrea and Douglas Alston. 

Photo: PORTLAND, ME - MARCH 16: Pam Cummings, the head of the Committee to Restore the Abyssinian, in the upstairs of the meeting house which is currently being restored. The historical place of worship built by African Americans in the 19th century fell into disarray and a committee to restore the building has been working toward the goal for 20 years. (Staff photo by Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer)

Talks

The Underground Railroad: Retracing the Tracks

An illustrious walk back in time to discuss the history of the Underground Railroad and its relevance and significance to Maine’s total and accurate history. Pamela explores the places that are hidden all around us in plain sight, each with its own story begging to be told and lessons waiting to be shared.


What’s in Your Hand? 

Use readily available resources to create your underground railroad–your escape from slavery to freedom.