“We claim . . . that to deprive the colored people of this State of the immunities of citizenship, on account of the color of the skin, (a matter over which they have no control), is anti-republican; and against such a procedure we enter our solemn protest.” This strongly worded missive reached Thomas Wilson Dorr and made clear the position of Providence’s Black community. When word had spread that the Dorrites were qualifying their call to abolish unfair requirements for suffrage and excluding Black voters, they responded swiftly.
The petition, Dorr was told, was written by Alexander Crummell (1819-1898), the minister of Christ Church during the Dorr Rebellion. A native of New York, Crummell had been born free and received an excellent education. While in New York, he had been involved in an effort to strike down the property requirement for suffrage, though the attempt was unsuccessful. In Providence, Crummell quickly became an influential figure in Providence’s Black community.
Crummell’s petition anticipates the arguments against suffrage for Black men and refutes them, drawing attention to inconsistencies in the People’s Party’s calls for so-called universal suffrage.
Black citizens decried the use of the word “white” to define universal suffrage in the People’s Constitution. The petition argued: “We are mostly native born citizens. We have lent our best strength in the cultivation of the soil, have aided in the development of its resources, and have contributed our part to its wealth and importance.”
Crummell aligned the cause of his fellow Black citizens to that of the colonists fighting to gain their freedom from Great Britain. “We appeal to that great written charter of American liberty--the declaration of independence--in support of our protestation. We believe that ‘all men are created free and equal’; and we affirm, that no tinge of the skin can possibly invalidate that cardinal doctrine of our country’s liberty, or make nugatory or partial the political privileges which, as deductions, may proceed from it."
Note on Location: 400 Benefit Street was the former site of St. Stephen’s Church. Crummell’s congregation, Christ Church, was eventually absorbed by St. Stephen’s in the 1850s.