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“Stroll the highways and byways
of Rhode Island and be astonished by the extraordinarily rich, compelling and
groundbreaking contributions African Americans have made to the state’s
landscape and cultural heritage. On foot or by car, or in the comfort or your
own home, this guide will assist you in locating and exploring exciting
sites, events and people. From slavery to abolition, reconstruction
to the gilded age, from civil rights to present day, this is a story
unlike any other in the country,” says Robb Dimmick.
Jay Coughtry, author of The Notorious Triangle, said
that the Rhode Island slave trade is synonymous with the American slave
trade. Our small state’s official name, “Rhode Island
and Providence Plantations” stirs up its deeply rooted slave
legacy. Despite “plantation” meaning an unusually large farm or
settlement in a new country or region, its painful and relevant connotation as
a pastoral prison for Rhode Island’s enslaved people cannot be denied.
In 2001, Reverend Virgil Wood, a Black pastor at Pond Street Baptist Church, waged a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful campaign to officially change the state’s name to simply “Rhode Island.” For Wood, “plantation” was more “Gone with the Wind” than “Mayflower Compact.” In 2010, Rhode Islanders went to the polls and voted to keep the name. Its offense should serve to remind us, as I hope this guide will, of the extraordinary extent to which Rhode Island engaged in the slave trade, its long-held resistance to divest itself of it, and the unexpected, rich and remarkable stories and contributions these Children of Africa have bestowed upon us.
Research for and access to
this guide was funded by:
Herman H. Rose Civic, Cultural
and Media Access Fund
and RI Council for the Humanities
From Burrillville to Block Island, to access the guide, go to: https://www.stagesoffreedom.org/on-the-rhode-to-freedom
Opening photo, website, Cape Verdean Museum, East Providence