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R.I. black church exhibit launches in Providence

Last night marked the launch of an exhibit about the history of more than fifty black churches in Rhode Island and across the country.

The exhibit called “Do Lord Remember Me” was curated by the Providence nonprofit Stages of Freedom. The nonprofit’s director Ray Rickman said that the exhibit was conceptualized during the organization’s last major event:

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“Two years ago, we did an exhibit on black performers, Jeffrey Osborne, Sissieretta Jones, the whole array of famous black performers in Providence, and we kept saying what we already knew: that a lot of black performers came out of the black church. Even if they went in a different direction, you could always kind of hear church [in their work].”  

According to Rickman, the church was and is one of the foundations of the African American community. He said that the organization created their current exhibit in order to give people the opportunity to remember the black church, a history that is often forgotten.

“We are very excited about this. Quite often black history is hidden. People don’t know how deep the roots are and even more important, people don’t know how connected our roots are,” said Rickman.

The exhibit is closely tied to Rhode Island history as well. The narrative depicted in the exhibit’s panels starts in Newport, RI in about 1750 and includes many influential Rhode Island church groups and churches.

One of these churches is the First Baptist Church on Main Street in Providence where the exhibit opened last night. This church is significant, because the first black church in Providence was created in its basement. Rickman said that Moses Brown and eight other black leaders gathered in the First Baptist Church to plan a black church.

According to Rickman, the launch of the exhibit at the First Baptist Church, was a very powerful experience. “It was a gathering, just short of being a church service. It might have been a church service,” said Rickman. The opening included a small prayer circle, songs and speeches from ministers.

The exhibit will stay at the First Baptist Church until Friday, and then travel to Woonsocket’s Museum of Work and Culture, and the Redwood Library and Athenaeum in Newport later this month. 

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