Slavery and Justice

Brown Creates Commission to Commemorate History of R.I. Slavery

July 1, 2007  |  Media Contact: Deborah Baum |  401-863-2476
A 10-member Commission to Commemorate the History of Slavery in Rhode Island established by Brown University in cooperation with the City of Providence and State of Rhode Island, is charged with developing ideas for how best to acknowledge the University and community’s historical relationship to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Acting on a recommendation made by the University’s Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, Brown University has established a 10-member commission to explore how the history of slavery and the slave trade in Rhode Island should be commemorated in Rhode Island, Providence, and at the University. The commission is composed of members of the Brown community as well as individuals nominated by the governor of Rhode Island and mayor of Providence. The commission is being asked to recommend possible monuments, sites and ceremonies in keeping with the recommendation of the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice.

The recommendation to acknowledge the history through a “living site of memory, inviting fresh discovery without provoking paralysis or shame,” was proposed by the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice in a report presented to President Ruth J. Simmons in October 2006. The report, commissioned by Simmons in 2003, found that some of the University’s early benefactors were involved in the slave trade and that the University benefited from their involvement. The committee made recommendations for ways that the University might fully and accurately acknowledge that past and move forward, including creation of a slave trade memorial, sponsorship of a competition for the memorial, and design of an annual day of remembrance on campus.

“Central to any program of action inspired by the report is the acknowledgement of the history of the state and the University and their connection to the institution of slavery,” Simmons wrote in the University’s response to the report. “Neglect of any part of that history would be reprehensible for a university that argues for open discourse, fidelity to truth, and non-discrimination in its values and decisions. An action plan should, therefore, include efforts to memorialize both this process and the history on which it cast light.”

Other actions taken in response to the Slavery and Justice Report include initiatives to improve public education in the Providence area. Brown created a $10-million target for an endowment for Providence Public Schools, called the Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence, and launched the Urban Education Fellows program, which provides free tuition for Brown graduate students who agree to serve Providence-area schools for at least three years after they earn a Master of Arts in Brown’s Urban Education Policy Program or a Master of Arts in Teaching. Additionally, the University is committed to exploring how best to carry out a major research and teaching initiative on issues of slavery and justice; making copies of the report and its materials readily available to the public; and continuing and expanding Brown’s academic partnerships with a number of historically black colleges and universities.

Members of the Committee

Kerry Coppin is associate professor of art at Brown University. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in photographic illustration from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1975 and his Master of Fine Arts in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1977. Prior to joining Brown in 2005, he taught at the University of Miami, Kansas State University, and the Rochester Institute of Technology. He has received numerous awards over the years, including most recently a Master of Arts ad eundem from Brown in 2006 and the Certificate of Excellence for outstanding work submitted to En Foco’s New Works Photography Awards in 2004. He is currently the photography curator/advisor at the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society in Providence.

Spencer Crew is director of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. After completing his Ph.D. at Rutgers University in 1979, Crew taught at the University of Maryland–Baltimore County. In 1981, he began his work at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History (NMAH), where after five years, he became curator of his first exhibition, Field to Factory: African-American Migration, 1915–1940. Originally scheduled to be a temporary exhibit at NMAH, it has now become permanent. In 1994, Crew became the first African American appointed as director of the NMAH, where he and his fellow museum staff reached an audience of more than 5 million visitors a year. In 2001 he left the museum to lead Cincinnati’s National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

Rabbi Leslie Y. Gutterman has served Temple-Beth-El in Providence since 1970, upon his ordination from Hebrew Union College. A 1964 graduate of the University of Michigan, Gutterman has been involved in a variety of civic organizations and has served on several boards of trustees, including Butler Hospital, RHODE ISLAND Telecommunications Commission, the Providence Athenaeum, Hospice Care, Rhode Island Kids Count, Trinity Repertory Theatre, Interfaith Health Care Ministries, the Brown University Board of Religious Overseers and Bryant University. He is a past president of both the Jewish Family Service and the Rhode Island Committee for the Humanities. For 20 years, Gutterman wrote a column for the “Face of Religion” page of The Providence Journal and received the public service award from the City of Providence on its 350th anniversary. Gutterman was awarded a Doctor of Divinity from Hebrew Union College and holds honorary degrees from the University of Rhode Island, Roger Williams University, Providence College, and Johnson & Wales University.

Steven Lubar is a professor of American civilization at Brown University and director of the John Nicholas Brown Center for the Study of American Civilization. Prior to joining Brown in 2004, Lubar was chair of the Division of the History of Technology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. He is the author of Legacies: Collecting America’s History at the Smithsonian, InfoCulture, and History from Things. His exhibits include America on the Move and Engines of Change at the Smithsonian. His interests include the history of museums and memorials, material culture studies, and cultural theory in the study of history of technology. Lubar is developing Brown University’s new Public Humanities Program, building on his interests in issues of culture, community, and public history. Present research projects include work in the history of museums, material culture, and 19th-century invention and technology.

Dietrich Neumann was trained as an architect in Munich and in London at the Architectural Association, received his Ph.D. in architectural history from the University of Munich, and came to Brown University in 1989. His publications include a 1995 book on the German skyscraper movement; Film Architecture: Set Design from Metropolis to Blade Runner, which served as the catalogue to an international traveling exhibition of the same name; Architecture of the Night: The Illuminated Building, which traces the history of architectural illumination and served as the basis for a major exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart; and frequent essays on European and American architecture of the early 20th century. Neumann’s numerous honors include those by the Society of Architectural Historians; the International Association of Art Critics, Boston; and the Society of Architectural Historians in Chicago. Neumann was named Rhode Island Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation in 1995, and won Teaching Awards at Brown University in 1993, 1994 and 1999.

Deborah Smith is director of municipal and external affairs in the Office of the Governor of the State of Rhode Island and serves as an advisor in Gov. Carcieri’s administration. Her extensive background in community leadership positions throughout the State of Rhode Island include her position as a senior vice president in the Corporate Services Group for Old Stone Bank in Providence. She was appointed by former Gov. Bruce Sundlun to the Board of Governors for Higher Education, the RHODE ISLAND Human Services Investment Council, RHODE ISLAND Partnership for Science and Technology, the RHODE ISLAND Commission on Criminal Justice, and the Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline. Bishops Gelineau and Mulvee appointed Smith to the Stewardship and Development Advisory Board for the Diocese of Providence. Smith is a graduate and past director of Leadership RHODE ISLAND and a past president of the Urban League of RHODE ISLAND She is the recipient of honorary doctorates from the University of Rhode Island and the New England Institute of Technology.

Kerry Smith is an associate professor of history and chair of East Asian Studies at Brown University. He received his B.A. in East Asian studies and his Ph.D. in history and East Asian languages from Harvard in 1985 and 1994, respectively. He is the author of A Time of Crisis: Japan, the Great Depression, and Rural Revitalization (Harvard University Press), a number of shorter works on the social history of interwar Japan, and a prize-winning article on Japan’s first “official” museum of the war years. Smith has received numerous honors, including an IIE Fulbright Graduate Research Fellowship in 1990, a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship in 1991, the NEH Fellowship for College Teachers and Independent Scholars in 1998, and the G. Wesley Johnson Prize from the National Council on Public History in 2003. Smith has served on numerous committees at Brown University, including the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, and is a faculty teaching fellow at the Sheridan Center.

Joaquina Bela Teixeira is executive director of The Rhode Island Black Heritage Society. She received a B.F.A. in graphic arts, art history and African-American Studies/Anthropology from Rhode Island College. Teixeira’s expertise is in local black history, arts and culture, and historical heritage conservation. She specializes in interpretation in exhibition programs for academic and non-academic communities; historic sites, arts and cultural and history programs in Rhode Island; and implementing community heritage outreach. Prior to her current position, Teixeira served as both interim director and education and outreach coordinator of The Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, manager and exhibition curator at the Providence Bookstore Café, a freelance artist, and art director at J&R Publishing. Her numerous projects with Rhode Island educational, cultural, and historical organizations include serving on the planning committee for the exhibit Walls of Heritage, Walls of Pride (2006); curator and coordinator of Annual African American Legacy: An Exposition of Art Exhibition (2002-2005); and work on The Urban Roots Tour, which highlights African American Heritage Site and places in Providence.

O. Rogeriee Thompson is an associate justice at the Rhode Island Superior Court. She earned her undergraduate degree at Brown University and her J.D. from the Boston University School of Law. She also holds honorary degrees from the University of Rhode Island and Bryant College. In 1997, Thompson became the first African American woman to serve as an associate justice for the Rhode Island Superior Court. Prior to that, she served as an associate judge with the Rhode Island District Court for nine years. In addition to her work in the courts, Thompson has served and continues to serve on several committees and boards including the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the RHODE ISLAND Children’s Crusade for Higher Education, and Dorcas Place. Thompson has been the recipient of many awards recognizing her efforts to better the community around her. She was recently honored by the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society with the William A. Heathman Award for Law and Justice and by the Providence Branch of the NAACP with the Thurgood Marshall Award.

Michael S. Van Leesten is president of The Van Leesten Group, LLC and also the deputy executive director of public affairs at the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation in Mashantucket, Conn. Past positions include executive director of the Providence Department of Planning and Development; executive director of Opportunities Industrialization Center of RHODE ISLAND; field supervisor at the Rhode Island Commission Against Discrimination; chairman of the RHODE ISLAND Black Heritage Society; and a teacher in the Providence School Department. Van Leesten was inducted into the RHODE ISLAND Heritage Hall of Fame in 2001 and is currently chairman of the Providence Black Repertory Company. He also took part in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Alabama and Georgia in the 1960s. Van Leesten has received an award from the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, as well as honorary degrees from the University of Rhode Island, Roger Williams University, and Rhode Island College.

Additionally, Brenda A. Allen, associate provost and director of institutional diversity at Brown, and Jo-Ann Conklin, director of the David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown, will work with and serve as advisors to the 10-member Commission.

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