This summer brought Rhode Island College into connection with tangible history. The Rhode Island Black Heritage Society was founded in 1975 by Rowena Stewart and for the last six years has needed help. This society has a collection spanning from scriptures to objects dating back to the colonial era till now. The collection will continue to expand but until recently had nowhere to go.
Managing Director Theresa Stokes spoke with RIC marketing writer Gita Brown, stating that decreases in funding caused these artifacts to move from a museum, to a library, to a smaller museum, then an office, finally transferring to storage. RIC vice president of College Advancement and External Relations, Kimberly Dumpson, had suggested to Stokes that the collection be housed on the college campus. Dumpson, also executive director of the RIC Foundation, has shed a light on an organization and provided a new learning opportunity for students.
The RIBHS is thrilled about the partnership with the college as RIC was the first public institution in the state. Stokes also claims that the depth of history Rhode Island has is “perhaps more than any part of the country”. This dual collaborative effort between the college and the RIBHS allows the entire campus community a chance to learn about African American heritage away from the pages of a textbook. Indigenous people of Africa (Cape Verde, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba and Guatemala) have been failed throughout both word and visuals with lack of teachings in textbooks and classes. This partnership has sparked the new proposals, such as a conversation of a new Africana studies course directly related to the materials in the collection.
Dumpson says that a plan to establish two funds through the RIC Foundation will support both the maintenance and programming of the collection. RIC President Frank Sánchez gave odes to Rowena Stewart, William Robinson and Michael Van Leesten. Sánchez thanked these individuals and their families for understanding the importance of preserving history and saving each item in the collection. History shows Newport and Bristol as a port for the translantic slave trade, so there is no doubt pain will be displayed. Rhode Island has a deep rooted history unbeknownst to most until their college years. The choice to move the collection to RIC was academically sound; it also makes up for the years of repetitive lessons and notions that pilgrims were saviors.
Intertwined with the RIBHS mission statement is their call to action; facilitate the interpretation of history to enlighten others about the heritage. The RIBHS website cites "[t]he Rhode Island Black Heritage Society is constituted for the purpose of: Procuring, collecting, and preserving books, pamphlets, letters, manuscripts, prints, photographs, paintings, and any other historical material relating to the history of the Blacks of Rhode Island; encouraging and promoting the study of such history by lectures and otherwise; publishing and diffusing information as to such history."
Rowena Stewart founded a purpose within this organization and that purpose will continue to flourish while housed and preserved at RIC. Details and news regarding the collection and any new projects it sparks will be brought to Anchor readers once concrete.