"Upon This Rock: How The Black Church in Rhode Island Empowered an Entire Community," presented by Robb Dimmick and Ray Rickman from Stages of Freedom
Rhode Island is the center for numerous African American firsts. When it comes to the church, a world of wonder opens up in this illuminating exhibit. Black religion in the state is evident as early as 1697 when a minkisi, an African ritual object, is found beneath the floorboards of a Newport home. The Free Union Society (1780) in the same city is the nation’s first Black philanthropic group, which devotes itself to the proper burial of its dead and the early practice of Christian rites in the homes of its members. One of those members, Newport Gardner, composes the first piece of music by an African in the New World, a hymn (Promise Anthem, 1764) that is sung in Black churches until the 1940s.
Also in Newport, we find America’s oldest and most populated Black burial ground, God’s Little Acre, whose headstones reveal spiritual aspiration or attainment from the 1700s forward. The first Black church in Rhode Island emerges from Providence's First Baptist Church, with assistance from Moses Brown. From these inklings, we see how the Black church in Rhode Island emerges from slavery, becomes a fortress of freedom, builds houses of worship, nurtures artistic talent, educates its children, deals with scandal, and fights injustice everywhere.