Filed Under Churches

Alexander Crummell

"We believe that all men are created free and equal."

“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."

This site at 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.

Images

Portrait of Crummell
Portrait of Crummell This undated illustration shows Alexander Crummell in his younger years. Crummell was in his late 20s during the Dorr Rebellion.
New York African Free School
New York African Free School Alexander Crummell attended the New York African Free School, depicted in this undated image.
"Negro Men of Mark" As part of a WPA project, researcher and writers, including famed novelist Ralph Ellison, conducted studies of the history of Blacks in America. This study, highlighting “Negro Men of Mark” in New York, explores Crummell's early education and influences.

Location

400 Benefit Street, Providence, RI 02903

Metadata

Elyssa Tardif, “Alexander Crummell,” Rhode Tour, accessed May 20, 2024, https://rhodetour.org/items/show/230.