Recognizing the Legacy of Slavery in Rhode Island

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In recent decades Rhode Islanders have come to terms with the history of slavery in Rhode Island, which was a center of the transatlantic slave trade. Newport, Providence, Bristol, and Warren were all destinations in the middle passage, and enslaved people worked in the plantations of Washington County where URI is located. This panel brings together representatives from three local organizations that are working to commemorate and raise awareness of this history: the Newport Middle Passage Ceremony and Port Marker Project; Rhode Island Slave History Medallions; and the Center for Reconciliation.

Victoria Johnson is a member of the founding committee and steering committee for the Newport Middle Passage Ceremony and Port Marker Project. She also co-chaired the committee to establish the group’s 501c3 status. A native of Newport, Mrs. Johnson had a distinguished career in teaching, coaching and educational administration that included becoming the first female African American principal of a secondary school in Rhode Island. She is active in the Newport Historical Society, Governor’s Board for the Bank of Newport, Newport Women’s League, National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, Newport Hospital Board of Directors, Newport “Rec” Reunion Committee and Newport County NAACP. She participates on many scholarship committees with the Rhode Island Foundation so that worthy and qualified students may have financial aid to attend college.

James DeWolf Perry serves on the board of directors of the Center for Reconciliation in Providence. He was nominated for an Emmy Award as the principal historical consultant for the PBS documentary “Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North,” about the legacy of the slave trade in New England. He also appears throughout the film as a descendant of James DeWolf, the most prolific slave trader in U.S. history. Mr. Perry co-founded the Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery and, while its executive director, designed and led many of the Center’s public programs on racial healing and equity, as well as professional workshops in education and public history. He edited Interpreting Slavery at Museums and Historic Sites (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), and his other published work addresses the teaching and interpretation of slavery and its legacy.

Charles Roberts is the Founder and Executive Director of Rhode Island Slave History Medallions, a nonprofit, placed-based statewide education program recognized by the Rhode Island General Assembly. Mr. Roberts is a native Rhode Islander whose family has lived in Newport since 1889. A visual artist, he studied graphic design at the Rhode Island School of Design and has exhibited his work at the Spring Bull Gallery, Newport Art Museum, DeBlois Gallery and Hope Street Gallery, all in Rhode Island, as well as the New Jersey State House. He also worked in concert production/promotion with Warner Atlantic Electra Records in New York, in which capacity he worked with James Brown, Chaka Kahn, Gladys Knight, Run DMC and other artists. Mr. Roberts also has organized gospel concerts in Rhode Island at the Veteran’s Memorial Hall and Providence Performing Arts Center, while managing and producing the popular First Night Newport, a city-wide New Year’s Eve Celebration of the Arts, for nearly a decade