PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The Rhode Island Historical Society has launched an ambitious project to tell the story of Rhode Island’s blacks in the 20th century. The story will be told largely through photographs, documents and oral histories collected this year. Participants are encouraged to bring items to the society’s ongoing lectures. The next event — “Rethinking the Civil Rights and Black Power Movement” — is Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the Aldrich House at 110 Benevolent St. in Providence. The talk is free.
The idea was sparked by a conversation between historical officials and Ali and Len Cabral at the Roots Cultural Center. The Cabrals wanted to explore the history of black Rhode Islanders during World War I.
“We were immediately enthusiastic about the chance to highlight these untold stories,” said Elyssa Tardif, director of the historical society’s Newell D. Goff Center for Education and Public Programs. “Out of this meeting, we realized that there was a greater need to provide a forum for people to learn about issues of race and freedom in the past and discuss what that means for our society today.”
The historical society collaborated with other groups to sponsor two earlier lectures, including one on the influence of children on the civil rights movement. Officials collected photograph at both events.
The historical society will launch a digital exhibit on its website in December, Tardif said.
“So far, we have focused on the archiving of photos and mementos, although we hope to expand the collection process and the digital exhibit itself in the future to accommodate all submissions, including oral and written histories.”
The exhibit, which will appear on the historical society’s website, will be interactive, she said. “The aim is to encourage as much public participation as possible to present a true picture.”
Money for the project comes in part from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities.
On Thursday, Fairfield University professor Yohuru Williams will talk about the black power and the civil rights movements. Williams is the author of “Black Politics/White Power: Civil Rights Black Power and Black Panthers in New Haven.” The talk is sponsored by the Rhode Island Historical Society, in collaboration with the Roots Cultural Center, the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, the Newport Historical Society, the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage and the Center for the Study of Slavery & Justice at Brown University.