Traveling While Black & American: Rhode Island Edition

DISCLAIMER: In an effort to shed light on a lens that I travel everywhere with, I decided that it was important for me to explicitly talk about My Black American Traveler Experience. I want to stress that everyone has their own experiences and biases traveling to any country. Therefore, my experience may not be your own. In specifying the Black American identity, I acknowledge that while there are some commonalities in experiences as Black people, there is also a privilege of being an American. I am supplementing my thoughts and experience with a context on demographics as I think it is important to paint the whole picture!


Some wonderings you may have that I hope this post helps to answer are:

  • What percentage of Rhode Island is black?

  • What is the ethnic breakdown of Rhode Island?

  • What percentage of RI is white?

  • What is the population of Rhode Island 2021?

  • What does the population of providence, rhode island look like?

  • What is the racial makeup of Rhode Island?

  • What is the demographic in Rhode Island?

  • Is Rhode Island culturally diverse?

  • Where are black-owned restaurants in rhode island?


Table of Contents


 

What I Expected

White AF


My Reality

Hold up! There is definitely some diversity here, and I am here for it!


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A. Treatment & Safety


As a Black person, I felt safe 90% of the time. People were SUPER nice...SUPER, SUPER nice. Rhode Island was one of the most welcoming. Being from NY, I still can’t get used to it. I saw many Black people native to RI in Providence, some of whom owned businesses. Those Black-owned businesses create safe spaces. As we explored small villages, I saw only a handful of people of color but were treated super well. I had great service in every restaurant I went to.


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B. Language

In terms of language, it was easy to get around because everyone spoke English.



C. Vibe & Culture

It’s a nice vibe. I admit that I was more focused on experiencing New England vibes than the It’s a friendly vibe, especially in Providence. For example, one restaurant called Kin PVD really felt welcoming, which was the owner’s intention. They played R & B music and had drinks with creative names such as “Black Girl Magic,” “Pass the...Henny! *Busta Rhymes Voice,” and “Darker the Berry.” It is a spot I would expect moreso in Bed Stuy or Harlem, NYC. I also went to a Haitian restaurant, which took me back home to Brooklyn because of the art and music. While I did not experience the nightlife, I was informed by a few New Englanders that Providence gets down. Some people travel to Boston to party in Providence because their clubs stay open later. I also noticed a cigar lounge with a lot of Black customers and good R & B music. You can definitely find a good, Black vibe in Providence. I imagine it is less the case outside the capital city.



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D. Visibility

Most Blacks I did see were concentrated in Providence. I appreciated seeing Blacks owning businesses, even in the Downtown area, as that is often not the case in other states. I saw many Blacks frequenting those businesses (both natives and tourists alike), which tells me they exist and these are safe spaces for them. This was definitely very different from what I experienced in Maine and Vermont, making this a pleasant surprise. I also did see more Latinos than I expected, but they were typically the Uber drivers. I also appreciated that many cultural and historical institutions elevated Black voice and Black history. For example, the Rhode Island Historical Society has guided tours that highlight the Black history in Providence. Also, the RISD’s art museum has an exhibit of Black art and other powerful Black art pieces.



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Black Stats in Rhode Island:

  • While RI has 6.8% Black (only 68,000 people), Providence has 16.8%, Black. This is a huge contrast to Maine and Vermont. For example, Blacks make up less than 2% of the population (2/3 less than Rhode Island) in Maine, and Blacks make up 8.45% of Portland. In Vermont, the stats are even worse: of the 625,000+ people, only 1.27% is Black (less than 8,000 people!), and 5.47% of the population is Black in Burlington.

  • Nearly one in three Black Rhode Islanders are foreign-born

  • Rhode Island’s Black Population grew 45% between 2000 and 2015

  • More than four in five Black Rhode Islanders live in Providence, Pawtucket, Cranston, Central Falls, East Providence, and North Providence.

  • Black underemployment rate 1.7 times greater than white underemployment

  • To elevate this further, here is a side by side contract of each of 4 major New England states:



Overall: I felt SUPER welcomed throughout the entire state. I felt not just seen but a sense of belonging in Providence – you do not have to find the Black vibe. I appreciated there being several Black-owned businesses to support. I also loved that museums and historical societies were elevating Black history & culture connected to Rhode Island. Do not be fooled by Rhode Island’s location in New England. I want to acknowledge that it may be a very different experience visiting Rhode Island versus living in Rhode Island as a Black person.

What is Rhode Island’s connection to the "Black Experience?" When did African Americans come to Rhode Island? What is Rhode Island’s Black history?

  • A total of about 1000 slave-trading voyages & 106,544 slaves to the New World = ½ of all American slaving voyages sailed from RI to the coast of Africa.

  • The first captives brought directly from Africa to Rhode Island arrived in Newport in a Boston ship in 1696. Newport ships entered the slave trade four years later, bringing captives from Africa to Barbados.

  • Between 1700 and 1750, the enslaved population in RI grew faster than the white population. In 1755, African-descended people made up 11.5% of the RI population ~ 9% of Providence, most of them enslaved.

  • RI had a higher percentage enslaved than any other New England state, where Africans never constituted more than 3.2% of the population.

  • Rhode Island is technically the 1st state to abolish slavery but didn’t enforce in 1652 and again in 1784

  • On the East Side of Providence, there is a 200-year-old church, the Congdon Street Baptist Church, the oldest prominently African American church in Rhode Island. To have a Black space that has remained so long is no easy feat.

  • The oldest Baptist church in the United States was founded in 1638 by Roger Williams in Providence, Rhode Island.

  • Rhode Island was one of the largest producers of “Negro cloth” from cotton imported from the South, supplying the plantation market with cheap, low-quality fabric worn by enslaved people.

  • The 1st Rhode Island Regiment was the first organized American regiment that included African and Native soldiers during the American Revolution.

 

How can I spend a day in Black Rhode Island?


Here is a day-long itinerary that can help you experience Rhode Island Black Travel by experiencing #blackownedbusinesses:


WAYS TO EXPERIENCE BLACK RHODE ISLAND:


FOOD (source of list)



VISIT:

  • Rhode Island Historical Society: You can visit the John Brown House Museum, named after a slave trader and one of the wealthiest and most influential people in the colonies and, then, the United States. The Browns are the namesake of Brown University. You can also take one of their walking tours, where you will learn about Rhode Island’s role in our nation’s history and some of its connection to slavery.

  • RISD: There is an art exhibit called “Defying the Shadow” that showcases images by and about Black artists

  • Stages of Freedom Walking Tour: They host walking tours to expose you to the history of African Americans on Providence's East Side, to show what once was and how the area’s culture has changed.

  • Providence Walks: Early Black History: A self-guided tour through some of Providence’s Early Black History landmarks. This tour was designed as an act of remembrance to honor the lives of those whose stories are only partially known but who contributed significantly to the city you see today.

  • Nightingale-Brown House: The 1st slave of Providence was bought by the Father of the four brothers whose house this belongs

  • Congdon Street Baptist Church is the first African heritage house of worship in Rhode Island, dating back to 1819. The church congregation evolved from Providence’s African Union Society and still exists today

  • Brick Schoolhouse: aka the Meeting Street School, was an early site providing public education for African heritage children dating back to 1828. Today, the historic building is the headquarters of Providence Preservation Society



OTHER LINKS


What has your experience been traveling while Black in Rhode Island? What do you expect it to be if you haven’t?