Along the Waterfront

Imagine the Fox Point waterfront in the 1940s. Cargo ships lined up to get into crowded docks. Longshoremen bustled along the busy quays. Crowds waited to welcome packet ships bringing new immigrants and news from Cape Verde.

Many of the longshoremen who worked the docks had themselves come into this port on the packet boats.  Until the 1950s, most of the packet boats were repurposed schooners and aging whalers. Crewed by skilled seamen, these vessels made regular trips between American ports and the islands of Cape Verde off the African coast, transporting people, letters, food, and freight.

Cape Verdean immigration to Providence, and greater New England, began the early nineteenth century, when men from the islands were recruited by whaling companies looking for good seamen and inexpensive labor. By the early twentieth century, Portugal’s oppressive colonial rule of the islands, combined with drought and starvation, forced families to consider leaving Cape Verde. Many immigrants moved to Providence and New Bedford, joining family members and friends already in the United States.

The waterfront neighborhood of Fox Point, bounded to the north by Power Street, became the heart of Cape Verdean Rhode Island until the late twentieth century. Today, some Cape Verdeans still live in the area, but most were forced to relocate as urban renewal projects dramatically changed the neighborhood. Beginning in the 1950s, Brown University also bought and developed land in the neighborhood; the ensuing gentrification made it prohibitively expensive for working class families to live there.

At the same time that longtime Fox Point residents were being forced to move elsewhere, the Fox Point docks were also changing. After World War II, “containerization,” the increasing use of shipping containers, drastically decreased the numbers of jobs available on the docks. Many longshoremen actively resisted the changes. In 1971, a historic strike on the west coast shut down the ports for 130 days. The Cape Verdean longshoremen who worked in Fox Point were members of Local 1329 of the International Longshoremen’s Association, the first labor union in the United States founded by Cape Verdeans. Local 1329 played an important role in the national labor union and in the lives of the Cape Verdean longshoremen and their families. Ultimately, resistance to automation was not successful and by the end of the twentieth century almost ninety percent of longshoremen jobs had been lost to automation.

These docks are filled with the memories of work, change and resistance, and the journeys of people and things from Cape Verde to Providence. Though the Cape Verdean community is no longer concentrated in Fox Point, more Cape Verdeans still live in Massachusetts and Rhode Island than anywhere else except Cape Verde. Many of them still gather each year in India Point Park to celebrate the islands’ independence from Portugal on July 5th, a day filled with festivities, educational events, and food.

Images

Four Longshoremen from Fox Point

Four Longshoremen from Fox Point

This photograph is thought to have been taken in the 1950s, when Fox Point was still an active waterfront community. Many men from the community found work as skilled longshoremen loading and unloading ships. Notice the longshoremen's hook and gloves in the hands of the man on the far left. | Source: Lou Costa, Fox Point Photo History View File Details Page

Longshoremen's Clambake

Longshoremen's Clambake

This panoramic photograph was taken on September 23, 1956, at a clambake hosted by the local chapter of the International Longshoremen's Association. | Source: Fox Point Photo History View File Details Page

Longshoreman Hooks

Longshoreman Hooks

These longshoremen's hooks, used by a member of the Fox Point Community, were included in an exhibit, "Remember the Old Times: Cape Verdean Community in Fox Point, 1920 to 1945," curated by students at the Center for Public Humanities at Brown University. | Source: Lou Costa, Fox Point Photo History View File Details Page

Audio

Jack Gomes

Jack Gomes talks about his work as a longshoremen and the changes he’s witnessed in Fox Point over the decades. | Source: Fox Point Oral History Archive, Brown Digital Repository, Brown University Library View File Details Page

Sylvia Soares

Sylvia Soares describes her father’s role as the president of the longshoremen’s union and the president of the pilot’s association. | Source: Fox Point Oral History Archive, Brown Digital Repository, Brown University Library View File Details Page

Donald Senna

Donald Senna reminisces about how many men in the close-knit Cape Verdean community, including his father and uncles, were longshoremen. His grandparents, who lived close to the docks, cooked Cape Verdean food for all the neighbors, visitors and seamen. | Source: Fox Point Oral History Archive, Brown Digital Repository, Brown University Library View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Kate Diedrick, “Along the Waterfront,” Rhode Tour, accessed March 24, 2017, http://rhodetour.org/items/show/36.
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