Black History Month has arrived, and the Rhode Island community will focus its attention on the cultural history, heritage and diversity of the black community. Rather than settle for the tried-and-true narrative of the black community’s struggle to progress from slavery, the Providence Cultural Equity Initiative is challenging all Rhode Islanders to view the black narrative through the lens of the experiences of the black community that has always called Rhode Island “home.”
In celebration of the rich history and legacy of the historical black community of Rhode Island, here are “10 Interesting Facts About Black History in Rhode Island That You Should Know About”:
- Jamestown was home to the last known slave in Rhode Island, James Howland, who died Jan. 3, 1859. His death notice, published in the Providence Daily Tribune Jan. 10, 1859, stated, "James Howland, the last of the Rhode Island slaves, died at the residence of John Howland, Jamestown, R.I., on the 3rd inst., at the ripe old age of one hundred years. He had always been a faithful servant in the Howland family. Up to the time of his death he retained all his faculties unimpaired, and on the night of Jan. 2 attended to his usual duties about the house. On the morning of the 3rd he rose, dressed himself, and was about to ascend the stairs from his chamber, when he fainted, and expired in a few moments."
- The “God’s Little Acre” cemetery in Newport, RI has been recognized as having possibly the oldest and largest surviving collection of markers of enslaved and free Africans, the earliest of whom were born in the late 1600s.
- The Dexter Training Ground in Providence, formally known as Camp Fremont, is a historically significant training ground for Colored Civil War Troops of the Union Army.
- America’s first African-American U.S. military regiment was the 1st Rhode Island Regiment. The regiment defeated three assaults by the British during the battle for Rhode Island in 1778 and later participated in the victory at Yorktown in 1781.
- Hard Scrabble (Addison Hollow) and Snow Town were two African-American neighborhoods in Providence in the early-mid 1800s, and were the sites of race riots instigated by working-class whites, which destroyed black homes in the neighborhoods. As a result of the Snow Town Riot, Providence voters approved a charter for a city government containing strong police powers, which resulted in the formation of the Providence Police Department.
- Joseph Gomes was the only Rhode Islander to play baseball in the Negro Major Baseball League, and was named an All-Star in each of the seven years he played. He compiled a 362-41 pitching record, with a 1.74 earned-run-average in the Majors.
- Dr. Raymond T. Jackson, originally of Providence, is an accomplished concert pianist and graduate of the Julliard School of Music. Noted for bringing the music of African-American composers to the concert stage, he compiled a three-volume anthology containing works by two dozen African-American composers dating back to the early 1800s. He was the first African-American, first musician, and youngest person to be elected into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame.
- Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones, born in Portsmouth, Virginia, was an African-American Rhode Islander and famous concert singer of the 19th century. After becoming the first African-American artist to perform at the Wallack's Theatre in New York, she toured South America, Europe and Canada. Known as "the Black Patti," after Italian diva Adelina Patti, Ms. Jones performed in Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall, and before the crowned heads of Europe. In addition to the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, Jones is also a member of the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame.
- Dr. Alonzo Van Horn was the first African-American dentist in Rhode Island, with offices at 22 and 166 Broadway in Newport.
- The African Union Society (AUS) was created in Newport in 1780. While most blacks from Rhode Island were free by 1807, strong prejudice and oppression were present before and after that date. The AUS developed partly in response to these difficulties, as well as to be a forum for black cultural discussion. The society is considered one of the first formal organizations founded by free blacks in the United States.
Black history is Rhode Island history. Make the effort to learn more about OUR rich and diverse Rhode Island history.
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