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
PVD 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 Mount Hope and Providence’s East Side, where thriving predominantly Black and multi-racial communities faced state-sanctioned displacement. You can read more here and here.
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.
In May 2023, Dannie, Rochelle Lee, April Brown, Virginia Thimas, Justice Ameer, Marijoan (MJ) Bull, and I will co-host a storytelling gathering for invited community members with a focus on the Lippitt Hill Urban Renewal Project. This was the largest Urban Renewal Project in Providence. It targeted the largest African American community in the city in the 1950’s and 60’s. We'll host lunch, a structured, critical oral history process, and informal opportunities for conversation.
We’ll also read George Houston Bass’ 1970’s play The Providence Garden Blues. The play is 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. Bass wrote The Providence Garden Blues from a deep knowledge and appreciation for the pulse and politics, values and aesthetics of Black theatre, especially the Black Arts Movement.