The Right to be Heard: Black Voices in Rhode Island HistoryAs we are in the midst of a worldwide Black Lives Matter and social justice movement, the right to be heard as people of African heritage is tantamount with building a more just society. Here in Rhode Island there are many historic documents that amplifies what black voices have said about Rhode Island and America within the legacies of slavery, discrimination, and economic isolation. The challenge oftentimes is before achieving solidarity and action, we need to listen, and we need to learn from those in history that have led and bear witness to the struggles to achieve equal rights for all. One of the Black voices in Rhode Island’s rich history is a man of both the cloth and political affairs.
What Does the Fourth of July Mean to the African American? A Historical PerspectiveFrederick Douglass, perhaps one of America’s greatest civil rights leaders, presented a speech in Rochester, New York, on July 5, 1852 entitled, "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro." The first part of his speech praises what the founding fathers did for this country, but the speech soon expands into a denunciation of the attitude of American society toward African heritage enslavement and equality. In his historic speech, Douglas points out the bitter irony of America celebrating the nation’s birth of freedom and independence, while embracing the enslavement of nearly four million declaring:
The Newport Man Behind the African American Labor Movement“The Colored, as well as the white laborers of the United States, are not satisfied as to the estimate that is placed on their labor, as to their opportunities, as to the remuneration of their labor, the call for this convention, and the very general and highly intelligent response which I gaze on in you, my fellow delegates, attest. No other class of men would be satisfied under the circumstances; why should we? We desire Union with the white laborer for a common interest.” - Address of George T. Downing to the Colored National Labor Convention, 1869
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