Wiscasset voters will decide whether to approve a plaque to honor James Weldon Johnson, lyricist of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” who died in Wiscasset on June 26, 1938.
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” has become known as the Black national anthem. Johnson, a civil rights activist as well as an author, educator, lawyer, and poet, died when a train struck his vehicle at the bottom of the hill in downtown Wiscasset.
His wife was driving the car in pouring rain as they returned to New York from a visit with friends in Thomaston. She suffered severe injuries but survived.
Some Wiscasset residents oppose a memorial plaque for Johnson.
Town Manager Dennis Simmons told the selectmen he had received several calls from people who oppose the plaque. They argue that Johnson was not from Wiscasset and was just passing through the town.
Two residents in attendance at the Zoom meeting spoke against the plaque.
Resident Judy Flanagan spoke in favor of the plaque, saying it would be educational for residents and visitors. She said Johnson’s death is part of the town’s history.
Selectmen Kim Andersson and Jefferson Slack expressed support for the plaque.
Board Chair Pam Dunning and Selectman Katharine Martin-Savage expressed concern that the town does not have a policy to address the issue.
Wiscasset Art Walk organizer Lucia Droby proposed the plaque, saying Wiscasset is part of Johnson’s life story. She suggested mounting an aluminum plaque on Main Street, with private and town funding covering the estimated cost of $3,000-$5,000.
She suggested dedicating the plaque in the spring of 2022 and inviting townspeople, historians, legislators, and other dignitaries.
Selectman Sarah Whitfield questioned the cost of the plaque.
The selectmen voted 3-2 to ask voters whether they want the plaque at a special town meeting in July. Dunning and Martin-Savage voted in opposition, citing the town’s lack of a policy.
Whitfield suggested that the selectmen pass the policy issue on to the ordinance review committee.
Hearing on dangerous building
The selectmen unanimously voted to designate a building at 467 Lowelltown Road as a dangerous building after a public hearing on the matter.
An attorney for the town and a representative of the mortgage holder on the property attended the hearing.
Wiscasset Code Enforcement Officer Bruce Mullins told the selectmen he has been working on the issue since December 2019, with little cooperation from property owners Lester and Erin Williams.
He said there is no heat in the house because rats have eaten into the electrical wiring, which has created a fire hazard. He said the house has a large hole in the roof and is unsafe for occupancy. He provided photos of the house and property.
Dunning asked the representative of the mortgage holder if he wanted to speak. He said he was there to observe and would act on the board’s decision.
The town’s attorney suggested that the town give the property owners 30 days to bring the building up to compliance. If they do not, the town has the authority to determine the future of the building, including possible demolition.
The selectmen approved a temporary business license for Kathryn Flynn, of Sea Bags. She plans to sell accessories and toys, handmade from recycled sails, from a truck. Simmons will work with her to find a location to park her truck that does not infringe on any parking spaces.
The selectmen made the following appointments: Becky Applin to the cemetery committee, Zachari Dalton to the shellfish committee, and Elizabeth Kyle to the appearance of the town committee.
The selectmen accepted a $13,000 grant to the Wiscasset Municipal Airport, part of the American Rescue Plan.