Rhode trip through the Black experience
By Robb Dimmick
As the good and necessary work of dismantling images and removing names from public spaces stained with anti-Black sentiments moves forward, it is important to know that African American presence and excellence is deep and well represented, though often unrecognized, in memorials that populate our small state.
For three years, I researched and documented Rhode Island buildings, plaques, statues and headstones where Black lives mattered. The end-of-life tablets placed on Black graves are some of the best evidence of the existence of extraordinary people. “Intelligent, Industrious, Affectionate, Honest and of Exemplary Piety”; this encomium, carved on plain stone, speaks of Duchess Quamino, a Black woman of “distinguished excellence,” who baked her way out of slavery and was known far and wide when she died in 1804 as the “pastry queen.” The stone is one of nearly 300 set on burials of free and enslaved Africans and African Americans in Newport’s “God’s Little Acre,” perhaps the oldest and largest Black burial ground in the country.
My virtual tour, “On the Rhode to Freedom, A Roadside Guide to African American Sites in Rhode Island,” made possible by the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and the Herman Rose Civic, Cultural and Media Access Fund, lays out a town-by-town open-air museum of over 400 places associated with slavery, abolition, reconstruction, the Gilded Age, civil rights, civic life, religion and economics that tells a story unlike any other in the country. As early as 1772 with Aaron Briggs, an enslaved boy from Prudence Island at the center of the burning of the Gaspee in Pawtuxet Village, to 19thcentury Edward Bannister, the first American artist to win a national award and cofounder of the Providence Art Club, to present-day Viola Davis, the Tony- and Oscarwinning actress who grew up in Central Falls, I identify and detail sites of African Americans whose achievements shaped the landscape of our state and the nation.
I encourage you to visit: stagesoffreedom.org/ on-the-rhode-to-freedom. Robb Dimmick is co-founder of Stages of Freedom and author of “Disappearing Ink: A Bibliography of Writings By and About Rhode Island African Americans.”