Early Black History in Providence
And Other Rich Cultural Offerings
Providence’s roots reach back hundreds of years and its streets are lined with beautifully preserved historic architecture. The city is teeming with fascinating stories from long ago, many of which have been largely untold — especially those about the lives of 18th and 19th century slaves — until now. The city has had to reconcile its place in history as the birthplace of religious freedom with its role in the slave trade.
Start the day with delicious specialty doughnuts from Knead Doughnuts in downtown Providence. Then begin the day's exploration by embarking on the Providence Walks: Early Black History Self-Guided Walking Tour. This tour explores Providence’s Black history, from the early days of the colony to today. Roger Williams founded Providence in 1636 on land inhabited by the Narragansett, Wampanoag and other tribes. By the mid-1700s, Rhode Island slave traders were a dominant force in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the majority of the town’s and colony’s economy was connected in some way to the trade. Learn about this history, while also bearing witness to the stories of these early Black Rhode Islanders. The legacy of slavery and its aftermath is deep, uncomfortable, and, in many ways, has been hidden and silenced. Despite this, generations of Black Rhode Islanders lived and thrived. Taking this tour is an act of remembrance, honoring the lives of those whose stories are only partially known, but who contributed significantly to the city you see today.
One of the many informative stops on the tour is the Stephen Hopkins House. The ten-time governor of Rhode Island enslaved at least six people in this house. It is one of the few places in Rhode Island to view both the workspace and sleeping quarters of enslaved people. The Sally Gallery at John Brown House is another important stop. This educational space is free to visit and tells the story of the slave ship Sally and its terrible and violent voyage from Providence to West Africa, as well as the bookkeeping ledger that tracked human tragedy as a "business expense." While there, be sure to check out the entire museum. It tells the story of John Brown, who grew wealthy from his family’s shipping business which included privateering, the Triangular Slave Trade and the China Trade. This home, one of the grandest in the United States, played host to presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams.
Other points of interest on the tour include 57 Benevolent Street, the former home of black veteran Richard Cozzens. Mr. Cozzens enlisted to serve in the American Revolutionary War as part of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment. The North Burial Ground, also on the tour, is one of the oldest cemeteries in Providence.
If you need a caffeine boost during the tour, stop by Dave's Coffee on Main Street (you can also grab some coffee syrup to go). When you're ready for lunch, try local favorite Geoff’s on South Main Street, serving up superlative sandwiches since the early 1970s. After a full day of walking and exploration, head to Providence's historic Federal Hill neighborhood, home to scores of restaurants serving cuisine ranging from traditional Italian to Mexican, Asian and more. Later on, you can find live music and events at Fête Music Hall in Providence’s Olneyville neighborhood.
Stop into downtown neighborhood eatery Ellie’s for a breakfast of freshly baked breads, quiche, pastries and more. Next, consider taking in a walking tour or exhibition from The Center for Reconciliation. This nonprofit organization is dedicated to the work of racial justice and racial reconciliation. Located on North Main Street, it offers a wide range of public programs, exhibitions and workshops about the history and legacies of slavery, the slave trade, and the construction of race and racial identities in New England and America.
Then make your way into the Stages of Freedom on Westminster Street and peruse its shop and historic exhibits. Stages of Freedom provides programming about Black Rhode Island life and culture to a wide audience. When you're ready for lunch, head to Yoleni's - part restaurant, part Greek food store, Yoleni’s features handmade pita, authentic Greek yogurt, sandwiches, salads and more in downtown Providence. Or if you fancy a burger, try Harry’s Bar & Burger – located on North Main Street. Harry’s is a great spot for a casual lunch and is best known for its sliders.
After lunch, you can check out Craftland. Located in downtown Providence, Craftland features a vast and quirky selection of fine crafts and cutting-edge handmade items. Next, you can explore the Arcade - flanking downtown’s Westminster and Weybosset streets. The Arcade Providence is the oldest indoor mall in the country. Now a mix of apartments, condos and retail, the Arcade is home to New Harvest Coffee & Spirits, Livi’s Pockets, Carmen & Ginger and more.
When you're ready for dinner, head to Los Andes, just a quick Uber or cab ride from downtown, for traditional Peruvian and Bolivian cuisine. Later, catch a show at Trinity Rep, one of the most respected regional theaters in the country. Trinity Rep presents a balance of world premiere, contemporary and classic works.
For your final day, grab breakfast at your hotel and then head out for Providence Walks: East Side Historic Self-Guided Walking Tour. Immerse yourself in Providence's fascinating history, local lore and quirky tales by taking a self-guided walking tour of the East Side of Providence. A couple of great East Side options for lunch are Tallulah’s Taqueria, a neighborhood eatery serving authentic yet innovative Mexican dishes; and Den Den Korean Fried Chicken, serving amazing fried chicken (and more).
Stop into Frog & Toad while on the East Side for an ever-changing selection of affordable items both locally made and from around the world. Next, head to the East Side of Providence to explore the RISD Museum. With a collection of more than 100,000 objects — ranging from ancient times to the present — the RISD Museum is a dynamic cultural center offering critically acclaimed exhibitions, lively public programs for all ages, and a renowned museum store, RISD WORKS. Grab a coffee and a bite at Café Pearl before or after visiting the RISD Museum.
At dinner time, consider El Rancho Grande for authentic Mexican dishes or, for a truly special meal, plan to go to North, located at The Dean Hotel. North features non-traditional dishes using locally sourced ingredients, and its owner James Mark was a 2019 James Beard Award Semifinalist for Best Chef: Northeast.
If you didn't get enough art at the RISD Museum, check out an exhibit, performance or gallery show at AS220. Located downtown, the AS220 Main Stage hosts more than 10 events a week. Additionally, the artist-run organization offers workshops, many drop-in classes and even a restaurant.
Where to Stay
Your visit will center around Providence, where you can dine, tour and see attractions, all within walking distance from your hotel. The capital city has fantastic options when it comes to hotels:
Built in 1922, the Graduate Providence (formerly the Providence Biltmore) is a landmark hotel featuring old-school charm and décor that pays homage to the city’s heritage. Located in the heart of the city, the Graduate is home to Poindexter, which serves coffee and café offerings.
The Dean is stylish 52-room hotel situated in the center of downtown, featuring custom furniture and local craftwork. This cool hotel is home to the restaurant north, The Dean Bar, Bolt Coffee and The Boombox, a karaoke lounge.
The recently renovated 564-room Omni Providence sits in a premier location — connected to the Rhode Island Convention Center, Dunkin’ Donuts Center and the Providence Place Mall. The Omni offers ample amenities, a coffee shop, and two restaurants, Fleming’s and Centro Restaurant and Lounge.
Getting to Your Hotel
Providence is conveniently situated on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor route, which runs from Boston to Washington, D.C. and back. High-speed Acela service easily transports passengers from New York City to Providence in about two hours and 30 minutes. The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (known as RIPTA) provides convenient public bus transportation throughout the state.
Getting from One Activity to the Next
Providence is a great walking city, so plan to stroll from one activity to the next. Visitors can also hop on a Rhode Island Public Transit (RIPTA) bus or call an Uber if preferred.