“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)


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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WATERFIRE, September 27th – A Thousand Ships

September 15, 2008 at 4:21 pm (A Thousand Ships, African Americans in RI, Freedom Festival)

The official opening event, kicking off our month-long, statewide FREEDOM FESTIVAL, part of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities On the Road to Freedom: African American Heritage in Rhode Island initiative, is a very special ritual of remembrance at WaterFire, the amazing art installation by Barnaby Evans, with help from The Museum on Site, and marking the bicentennial of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

At sunset on September 27th, four small boats travel up the river from the historic Providence harbor on the edge of the Atlantic.  Tens of thousands of people are gathered at WaterFire but many may not know the full history of the water by which they stand.

This is a night of remembrance – an occasion to commemorate the bicentennial of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, but also a night to acknowledge and mark Rhode Island’s century-long inivolvement with this trade.  Merchants from Rhode Island mounted more than a thousand slaveship voyages on these waters, carrying over 100,000 Africans into New World slavery.  One of these ships was called the Providence, and more slaveship voyages sailed from Rhode Island’s harbors than from any other state.

A Thousand Ships is a night for contemplation and recognition – a ritual observance acknowledging the state’s historic involvement with human bondage.  A night filled with music and silence, dance and stillness, fire and water.  Echoing a traditional African ritual, a thousand people will join together to offer a libation to the ancestors by pouring into the river and onto the ground a thousand vessels of water, each representing a slave voyage from Rhode Island.  Actors will walk through the crowds giving voice to historic figures from Rhode Island, sharing their stories of freedom and bondage and the struggle to abolish slavery and the slave trade.  Torches will be lit, the infamous triangle trade will be demarcated, chains will be burned and broken, and our entire community will gather together to remember, honor, watch, listen and feel.

This event at WaterFire is dedicated to the memory and work of the late Professor Rhett S. Jones and a formal West African libation ceremony in honor of Professor Jones will be poured by Professor Anani Dzidzienyo of the Brown University Department of Africana Studies.

A Thousand Ships will be a time for remembering, and a night to remember.  We cannot allow ourselves to forget.

To make it happen, we are going to need lots of volunteers. Please e-mail Lyra Monteiro at lyra@TheMuseumOnline.com or call 401-261-3441 if you are interested in participating.  Slots available are from 2-6 pm and 6-10 pm.  Thanks for helping to make this all possible!

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