Fair housing demonstrators converge on Providence City Hall steps prior to their march on the State House. Their impassioned sit-ins, vigils and chanting forced the General Assembly into premature adjournment. Photograph: June 4, 1963, courtesy the Providence Journal

Lippitt Hill Critical Oral History Project

I’m supporting an effort, led by Dannie Ritchie (MD, MPH) and community members to document stories about—and take action on—displacement, urban renewal, land use, spatial justice and the current housing crisis in Providence, Rhode Island. Our focus is Providence’s East Side, where thriving predominantly Black and multi-racial communities faced city-sanctioned displacement in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Approximately 80% of the 57-acre bulldozed parcel were homes to Black residents. In a narrative twist, the new neighborhood was built to accommodate 13% Black tenants; the City celebrated this statistic by comparing it to Providence’s overall 8% Black population and classified the area racially integrated. You can read more here and here.

We want to reframe hegemonic stories to activate a more nuanced and evocative perception of history. At our events, we use critical oral history methodology to look at the processes of urban removal as it was understood and interacted with by people impacted and their descendants. We also use a multi-sensory aproach, with special attention to food, music, and arts-based storytelling. We read George Houston Bass’ 1970’s play The Providence Garden Blues, based on interviews with some 80 senior citizens in the city of Providence about their lives against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement and the urban renewal projects that destroyed the East Side. Lastly, using a desire-centered framework, inspired by Eve Tuck, instead of documenting pain and brokenness to hold power accountable, we embrace complexity and possibility. We contribute to the preservation of new foundational stories that can re-shape how we relate to Lippitt Hill and the effects of urban renewal more broadly.

In May 2023, after a year of project development, Dannie, Rochelle Lee, April Brown, Virginia Thimas, Justice Ameer, Marijoan (MJ) Bull, and I co-hosted a critical oral history event for 15 invited community members. We are now working to raise funds to continue the work. 

Past work to preserve the stories of the East Side’s Black families has led to murals and events for people to gather, document and tell stories. Sylvia Ann Soares shared a powerful story at one of these events. Through Community Health Innovations of RI, an organization Dannie founded to work with communities to advance community health, we are creating more vehicles to share the stories of Black Families from the East Side - Mt Hope and Lippitt Hill.