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)


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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Heritage Festival, September 20, Providence

September 26, 2008 at 2:44 pm (Freedom Festival, Heritage Days)

“We are a nation of many nationalities, many races, many religions – bound together by a single unity, the unity of freedom and equality.  Whoever seeks to set one nationality against another, seeks to degrade all nationalities.”  Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States (1933-1945)

Last Saturday, September 20, 2008, the R.I. Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission  hosted the 31st annual Heritage Day Festival on the State House lawn.  It was a spectacular fall day and I was there, sharing a table with the Heritage Harbor Museum (thanks!), distributing our Freedom Festival flyers…

Many folks stopped by to chat, find out more about the series that both commemorates the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, and also celebrates African American heritage.  I brought the fascinating books of keynote speakers, Paula J. Giddings (speaking at the Great Friends Meeting Hall (NOTE: this is a change from the original Colony House venue) in Newport, RI, on October 9th at 7:30) and Ira Berlin (speaking at the First Unitarian Church in Providence, RI, on October 16th at 8:00 pm).  I also was delighted at the wonderful variety of participants – an amazing Panamanian marching band, Chinese dragon dancers, Thai, Bolivian, India, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Korean, Irish, and many other representatives from our diverse communities. We are indeed fortunate to have the opportunity to share our cultures and traditions with each other.

PLEASE NOTE:  Our opening WaterFire “Thousand Ships” event has been postponed until NEXT Saturday, October 4th, due to the current deluge…see you on the 4th!

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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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September at the RI Council for the Humanities

September 8, 2008 at 12:24 pm (Freedom Festival)

Risa and SueEllen – “the Providence Sisters” – Flathead Indian Reservation, Montana

As always, my favorite season (summer) has sped by – and September, with its inherent call to action, is upon us.  I had a memorable time in July, visiting Montana (for our annual National Humanities Program Officers Conference – a gathering of folks across the nation and U.S. territories, coming together to discuss the value of our important work focused on human thought and action) where my colleague SueEllen Kroll and I unveiled our ambitious “On the Road to Freedom: African American Heritage in RI” (otrtf) initiative.  SueEllen is our Grants director, and as our annual deadline for letters-of-intent (to apply for a major grant) passed on September 1st, she was pleased to see a general increase in the number of grants received AND an astonishing 18 submitted for consideration for our otrtf project.

Our networking is WORKING – hooray.

The Council-conducted program side of things (my bailiwick) is forging ahead, full-steam – we are looking forward to the upcoming “Freedom Festival” (see attached pdf and be sure to check out our new website, after September 15th, for FULL information on the festival – http://www.rihumanities.org).

Let the good times roll!

Freedom Festival flyer

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Pondering Freedom – July 4th…

July 4, 2008 at 12:01 pm (Freedom Festival)

rod, reza, chuck
Rod Echols, Reza Clifton, Chuck Arning
HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY! Our amazing team is delighted to be moving along with our Freedom Festival programming for October 2008, commemorating the bicentennial of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and African American Heritage…
it looks like this to date:
October 6 Michel Martin, “Tell Me More” at Providence Black Rep
October 7-12 The Frederick Douglass Project – Mixed Magic Theatre
October 9 Paula J. Giddings, keynote “Land of the Pilgrim’s Pride: Ida
B. Wells and the Northern Campaign Against Lynching”
Old Colony House, Newport
October 10 Curator’s Salon The Cotton Exhibit, Slater Mill, Pawtucket
October 11 African Americans in RI – Westerly Public Library
October 12 Festival in Newport (tba) – Jane Pickens Theatre
October 13 Family Festival, African American Heritage – Cathedral of
Life Assembly, Providence
October 14 Screening Oscar Michaeux “Within Our Gates” – PPL
October 15 Action Speaks on Oscar Michaaeux – AS220, Providence
October 16 Ira Berlin, keynote – First Unitarian Church, Providence
October 17 Ray Rickman, “Lydia Maria Child – Abolitionist and First
Woman of the Republic” – Providence Athenaeum
October 18/19 Door of No Return play – Gamm Theatre, Pawtucket
October 20 Celebration of the Humanities – tba
We’ve been meeting and gathering folks all excited about the many opportunities heading our way…
Bernadet Pitts-Wiley and Linda A\'Vant-Deishinni
Bernadet Pitts-Wiley and Linda A’Vant Deishinni
“O Freedom, O Freedom, O Freedom Over Me,
and Before I’ll be a Slave, I’ll Be Buried in My Grave
and Go Home to My Lord and Be Free”

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Neglected – Boston Globe article, etc.

June 24, 2008 at 4:34 pm (African Americans in RI, Freedom Festival)

so, hello everyone, finally a blog entry that looks like a blog entry (what do I know???) – i.e. the more personalized version of communication. I’ve uploaded lots of lists and reference tools and all sorts of materials and thoughts, and will continue to do so, but thought it might be refreshing just to say HELLO to anyone landing here for the first time. I’ll also try to intersperse quick quirky updates along with the more serious material.

We’re really excited about this new programming initiative “On the Road to Freedom: African American Heritage in Rhode Island” and are daily reminded how important this work really is. As we collect these “neglected” or sometimes “hidden” stories, we look forward to sharing them with you. We are convening groups statewide who are participating in the upcoming “Freedom Festival” taking place between October 9-October 20th – more on that soon. Just to tease you, keynote speakers Paula J. Giddings and Ira Berlin will both participate. There will be a Family Festival at the Cathedral of Life Assembly in Olneyville in Providence; several film screenings (Oscar Michaeux) and gospel concerts in Newport, and Providence; salons about free black life, taking place in Pawtucket, Providence and Westerly…details momentarily!

Slavery and its legacies are just part of this story. In today’s Boston Globe, Vanessa E. Jones writes a compelling article entitled “Neglected – Some say New Englanders are ignoring the commemoration of slavery’s end.” Check it out http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/articles/2008/06/24/neglected/?s_campaign=8315

loads of Rhode Island references.

did I say short and sweet (or did I just think it?) – well therefore I’ll say farewell until next time…



Ted Widmer, Director of the John Carter Brown Library (Brown U.) and Risa at the Frederick Douglass Book Prize ceremony, Gilder Lehrman Center, Yale Club NYC. This years prizewinner was Christopher Leslie Brown for his book “Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism.”

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