Rhode Island's Black Heritage

Tour curated by: Brown University students in "Methods in Public Humanities," Spring 2014

People of African descent have been part of Rhode Island’s population and culture since the seventeenth century. For a century, they were carried to Rhode Island’s shores aboard slaving vessels, and they helped build the fledgling colony. When the slave trade ended, Rhode Island’s black residents fought for equal access to education, housing, and employment. By the twentieth century, African Americans in Rhode Island emerged as significant cultural, political, and economic players, as reflected in their businesses, institutions, and activism.

Locations for Tour

I remember being much pleased with my nice clothes, and still more so, as I saw so many boys and girls of all sizes at the school, all dressed so nice and clean. … I thought it was one of the most charming sights I had ever beheld. - William J.…

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…

On November 18, 1949, at 56 Randall Street, in the mostly poor, mostly black, Randall Square neighborhood, local African Americans crowded into the new Celebrity Club bar. It wasn’t quite finished, but the crowd didn’t pay much attention to the…

“In Memory of Duchess Quamino, A free black of distinguished excellence: Intelligent, Industrious, Affectionate, Honest, and of Exemplary Piety, Who deceased June 4, 1804, aged 65.” Quamino’s weather-worn marker, along with nearly 300 others,…

“I would have been a millionaire today if I had bent to prejudice.” So said George Thomas Downing, prominent African American Rhode Island restaurateur and civil rights champion. From behind the curtains of his lavish Sea Girt Hotel, built on…

Fed up! Perhaps they didn't hear you the first time. Every so often, you have to redeliver the message. That’s exactly what happened in 1975, when a Third World Coalition led by Black students occupied University Hall for 38 hours. Black, Latino,…

By the early 1900s, race relations in the United Sates had grown increasingly tumultuous. Despite the abolishment of slavery, post-Civil War America was laden with barriers for people of color. Prominent Black leaders disagreed about how best to…

The worn wooden collection box, passed from hand to hand, slowly made its way through the crowded Quaker meeting. Many looked away, while some murmured angrily . . . radicals . . . disturbing the peace! A few people contributed coins, perhaps moved…
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