Michel Martin, NPR “Tell Me More” Host – 200 Years After: Commemorating the Bicentennial of the Abolition of Slavery

October 9, 2008 at 10:56 am (African Americans in RI, Bicentennial of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slav, Freedom Festival)

Michel Martin talking with Mary-Kim Arnold

Michel Martin, host of NPR’s “Tell Me More” came to the Providence Black Repertory Theatre, on Monday, October 6th to tape her show “200 Years After: Commemorating the Bicentennial of the Abolition of Slavery,” part of the Freedom Festival series, and a fund-raiser for the newly independent R.I. NPR station WRNI.  Panelists included Mary-Kim Arnold, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, whose initiative “On the Road to Freedom: African American Heritage in RI” the Freedom Festival is part of; Katrina Browne, the writer, director, and filmmaker of Traces of the Trade: a Story of the Deep North, a documentary about her family’s involvement in the slave trade; Dr. James Campbell, Africana Studies at Brown, and now at Stanford University, whose research focuses on African American history and on the wider history of the Black Atlantic, and whose recent book Middle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa, 1787-2005 was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in History; and the Reverend Jeffery A. Williams, founder and head pastor of the Cathedral of Life Christian Assembly in Providence.

“Tell Me More” taping                                     Mary-Kim Arnold, Rev. Williams, Katrina Browne

WRNI held a reception at 6:30 and everyone had an opportunity to chat and get to know each other.  The taping began at 7:30 and was absolutely riveting.  Michel Martin has a true gift, in which she combines a tremendous sense of humor, with critical thinking, and the abililty to put her guests at ease and make REAL conversation flow.  Marc Fisher writes, “Michel Martin has a keen ear, a taste for good stories, and a knack for asking tough questions” – so true!  Audience members felt honored to witness the process, and to be involved in a question/answer period  – the conversation went on for at least 90 minutes, the final show (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95465836 ) was edited down to 17 minutes.  Each panelist brought such relevant input to this large question of how the legacies of slavery in America continue to affect contemporary society and how, until we come to grips with that legacy it is tough to move on to a broader and more inclusive world view.

Marie Nelson, Executive Producer “Tell Me More” and Reza Clifton of RezaRites.com


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“A Thousand Ships”; Ray Rickman; Cape Verde Museum opening

October 6, 2008 at 3:51 pm (A Thousand Ships, African Americans in RI, Freedom Festival)

FREEDOM FESTIVAL is launched!

Saturday, October 4th, a quintessential New England Fall day, was my BUSY BUSY BUSIEST day – I began at 11 am listening to Ray Rickman hold forth at the Roger Williams National Memorial (U.S. Park Service) site on “How Providence Became a City: the Impact of the HardScrabble and Snowtown Riots of 1824 and 1831” – an insightful look of how history continues to have resonance in our contemporary lives, and how important it is to remember and retell these stories.

Ranger Chuck Arning, Risa Gilpin, Ranger Sparkle Bryant, Ray Rickman at Roger Williams National Memorial, Prov., RI

Then it was off to the Cape Verde Museum, 1003 Waterman Ave., East Providence, RI for the opening of their “Slavery and the Cape Verde Islands”  – the three curators who were there (Yvonne Smart, Denise Oliveira, and Virginia Gonsalves) enthusiastically showed me around – this is a little known museum site, housed in a row of commercial spaces and well worth a journey – their collection of maps and artifacts is enlightening…

Yvonne Smart, Denise Oliveira, Virginia Gonsalves at the Cape Verde Museum

And then, at 2 pm, I came back to Providence to participate in WaterFire’s “A Thousand Ships” event – a ritual of remembrance marking the bicentennial of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade – an installation by Barnaby Evans and the Museum On Site (Lyra Monteiro and Andrew Losowsky’s site – www.themuseumonline.com

Andrew Losowsky, Barnaby Evans, Mary Tinti, and Lyra Monteiro – the movers and shakers behind “A Thousand Ships” – discussing final details.

Events included:

6:15 pm – A Thousand Ships, A Thousand Libations – pouring 1,000 bottles of water into the river as a libation ritual, in the lights of the burning braziers at Waterplace Basin – each bottle represented a slaveship voyage that left from Rhode Island.

7:00 pm – Remembrance and witness – a torchlit procession traveling to significant downtown sites to bear witness to Providence’s relationship with the slave trade and connected industries.  African drumming and dancing by New Works, led by Michelle Bach-Coulibaly.

8:00 pm – Triangle of trees/Triangle Trade – Paper chains suspended from trees in a triangular configuration, representing the “triangle trade” between R.I., the west coast of Africa, and the Caribbean, were burned and then replaced by luminaria in memory of the victims of the slave trade. Singing by The RPM Voice of RI, Clarice Thompson, Director.

8:30 pm – Actors bring voice to the institution of slavery by delivering pieces collected from the RI Historical Society, the RI State Archives, the John Carter Brown Library, the Bristol Historical Society, and from the poetic works of Kalyana Champlain and Nehessaiu deGannes.

What an incredible day – never to be forgotten!  The relevance and the power of public arts and humanities work was exemplified by these events – planting the seeds for further exploration of the legacies of the slave trade and of the many significant contributions of African Americans to our state and to our nation.

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Freedom Festival begins – Saturday, October 4th

October 1, 2008 at 4:34 pm (A Thousand Ships, African Americans in RI, Freedom Festival)

“It is necessary to stay on the march, to be on the journey, to work for peace wherever we are at all times, because the liberty we cherish, which we would share with the world, demands eternal vigilance.  And democracy is no easy path, but those of us who believe in it must be prepared to sacrifice in its cause more willingly than those who are prepared to die in the wars of aggression.  We, too, must be dedicated to the cause of freedom.”  Ossie Davis

Please check the calendar on our website www.rihumanities.org for the MANY events scheduled throughout the month of October, associated with FREEDOM FESTIVAL – commemorating the bicentennial of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade AND celebrating African American Heritage in Rhode Island.

Calling out the following:

Ray Rickman presents “How Providence Became a City: the Impact of the HardScrabble and Snowtown Race Riots of 1824 and 1830” at the Roger Williams Memorial, 282 North Main Street, Providence, from 11:00 am-1:00 pm.

The opening of the exhibit “Slavery and the Cape Verde Islands” at the Cape Verdean Museum, 1003 Waterman Avenue, East Providence, RI, from noon-4 pm.

Due to the deluge last Saturday, WaterFire has been rescheduled for this coming Saturday, October 4 at dusk.  “A Thousand Ships” presentations will be taking place throughout the evening.  Then, there’s a symposium related to “A Thousand Ships” (approximate # of slave ships sailing from Rhode Island ports in the 18th and 19th centuries) at the John Nicholas Brown Center, 357 Benefit Street, on Sunday, October 5th at noon.

Here’s a pdf of the flyer for Freedom Festival – for more information contact me, Risa Gilpin, at risa@rihumanities.org or call 401-273-2250 –

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