City Council Unanimously Supports Campaign to Memorialize Enslaved Africans


Initiative creates awareness of Rhode Island’s historic role in slavery

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The Providence City Council passed a resolution on Thursday
formalizing support for the Rhode Island Middle Passage Project, the local chapter
of a national effort to install historic markers memorializing the lives of
enslaved Africans. The Rhode Island Middle Passage Project committee was recently
formed and is working to create awareness of Rhode Island’s role in transatlantic
human trade. The resolution was sponsored by Councilman Wilbur Jennings and
co-sponsored by Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris and Councilman Seth Yurdin.

Although Rhode Island’s role in human trade is not widely recognized, more than half
of all North American slaving voyages departed from Rhode Island ports. «Most
people probably aren’t familiar with Rhode Island’s role in the trade of captive
Africans,» said Jennings. «For more than 150 years, the trade of enslaved people was
a significant part of Rhode Island’s economy. The voyage from Africa to the Americas
was brutal, and millions of Africans died without burial. The Rhode Island Middle
Passage Project is working to honor those lives today.»

«For decades, Rhode Island was one of the most active Northern colonies in the trade
of captive Africans,» said Yurdin, who represents downtown Providence and the area
where the colonial port was once located. «While no monument or ceremony can atone
for the horrors of slavery, it is important to acknowledge our city’s role in human
trade and educate future generations about that period in our history.»

«It’s an important resolution,» said Harris, a longtime supporter of the project.
«It’s about bringing to light an important part of history that’s been buried. It’s
time to really expose that history and bring it out of the shadows. Years ago, Ruth
Simmons, the former president of Brown University, played a major role in starting
this conversation. I’ve participated in many panels and discussions since then to
keep the conversation going.»

The Rhode Island Middle Passage Project is the local chapter of the Middle Passage
Ceremonies and Port Markers Project (MPCPMP), a nonprofit initiative that works to
create public memorial spaces in recognition of the millions of captive Africans
brought to America to live in slavery and the millions of African lives lost at sea.

Providence is one of four cities in Rhode Island whose ports once served as points
of entry for enslaved Africans. The Rhode Island Middle Passage Project is also
working to install historical posts and host remembrance ceremonies in Newport,
Warren, and Bristol.