City Life

Learning From the Past

The State Archives' exhibit looks back at African American activism in Rhode Islanders during the Civil War


In February, Secretary Nellie M. Gorbea introduced a new exhibit at the State Archives, which will be running through the end of April. Bullets and Bulletins: African American Activism in Civil War Era Rhode Island features original documents, photos, newspaper clippings and historical items dating back to the 1850s-1880s, telling the story of African Americans in Rhode Island and their struggles with equality.

“We have so much to be proud of in Rhode Island’s history and this exhibition series is a great opportunity to encourage civic pride and participation among all Rhode Islanders,” says Secretary Gorbea on the benefits of our State Archives as a time capsule for remembering how our actions can make an impact nationwide.

On display now are petitions and letters from African Americans who fought to win equality in their home state, including the right to serve in the Civil War, allowing interracial marriage and penalizing discrimination based on race. The authors of the 1865 Petition for Equal School Rights, for example, asked to eliminate the “last relics of slavery and barbarism remaining in this state” by allowing integrated schools. Items have also been loaned from the Rhode Island Historical Society and the Keith Stoke Family Collection and are on display.

The exhibit is the first of a four part series exploring activism in RI, with the next starting in May for the 100th anniversary of the US entering WWI and focusing on the important roles of women at home, soldiers at war and the activism of conscientious objectors. 337 Westminster Street.