A Forgotten Maine Island Has a Disturbing and Controversial History
Malaga Island was once inhabited by a diverse population with a small school and homes for it's residents. Today, the island is empty of all traces of inhabitance, even the graves that once contained the deceased members of the island town. In the early 1900s, the Maine government determined that Malaga was a scar on the face of Maine's picturesque tourism industry and it was wiped out, never to be inhabited again.
The beginnings of the community are credited to an African American man named Benjamin Darling. Benjamin owned an island nearby and his family members were the first to settle on Malaga Island and start the community that would eventually earn a controversial reputation.
I'm warning you... The history of this island is quite strange and a little uncomfortable to read about. In fact, it's so strange and controversial that it seems odd I've never heard of it before. I've lived in Maine my whole life and was educated at Maine schools and never once have I heard about Malaga Island.
Malaga Island was settled around the time that the study of eugenics was gaining popularity. Eugenics, simply put, is the science of controlled breeding to produce desirable heritable characteristics. Eugenics also suggests that the poor, low-class, and criminal were born that way due to inherited traits. You know what eugenics didn't care for? Multiracial people. Malaga's residents were multiracial. Yeah, it's pretty rough stuff to take in hearing about it today.
Somewhere along the line, an assumption was made that the residents of Malaga were also "feeble minded". News stories and magazine articles perpetuated the idea that Malaga's people were "degenerate" and incapable of caring for themselves despite the construction of a school and assistance from visiting missionaries.
The racism and prejudice was thick. The residents were even given the name "Malagites" which was used as derogatory slang. The residents were eventually named wards of the state and the island was sold to the State of Maine. The eviction notice came soon after. The residents fled but were given no alternative homes. According to the Maine State Museum article on Malaga Island's history, "The state exhumed the cemetery remains on Malaga Island, combining seventeen individuals into five caskets, and moved them to the cemetery at the Maine School for the Feeble Minded." Yikes.
Searching the Malaga Island hashtag on Instagram today gives you picturesque views of kayakers exploring the waters around this once inhabited Maine Island. I wonder if the adventurers know the story of the small island and it's disturbing past, rooted in racism and prejudice?