Rhode Island Church Taking Unusual Step to Illuminate Its Slavery Role
This is just a reminder that slavery wasn’t purely a Southern evil. I knew that many fortunes in both the North and South were built on the slave trade, but I had no idea Rhode Island has been called “the Deep North,” nor was I aware that churches had supported & profited from the slave trade.
This is yet another good example of why “religious freedom” should never, ever include the right to deprive another person of his or her civil rights, nor should any state law be allowed to stand if it permits one group’s civil liberties to abridge those of another group. No religion or group of believers is immune to corruption and the perpetration of grave injustices against their fellow man—NONE. Added emphasis is mine.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — One of the darkest chapters of Rhode Island history involved the state’s pre-eminence in the slave trade, beginning in the 1700s. More than half of the slaving voyages from the United States left from ports in Providence, Newport and Bristol — so many, and so contrary to the popular image of slavery as primarily a scourge of the South, that Rhode Island has been called “the Deep North.”
That history will soon become more prominent as the Episcopal diocese here, which was steeped in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, establishes a museum dedicated to telling that story, the first in the country to do so, according to scholars.
Many of the shipbuilders, captains and financiers of those slaving voyages were Episcopalians. The church, like many others in its day, supported slavery and profited from it even after the trans-Atlantic slave trade was outlawed and slavery had been banned in the state. Among the most notable Episcopalian slaveholders were Thomas Jefferson, who was active for some time in the church, and George Washington.
Over the last decade, the Episcopal Church of the United States has formally acknowledged and apologized for its complicity in perpetuating slavery. Some Episcopal dioceses have been re-examining their role, holding services of repentance and starting programs of truth and reconciliation. […]
Bishop Knisely said his research had revealed shameful episodes in church history. For example, he said, when Quakers and Baptists in Newport began turning against slavery, some slave owners in those churches switched to the Episcopal Church, where they were welcomed and their slaveholding was not challenged.
“We sounded an uncertain trumpet,” Bishop Knisely said. “We were happy to receive their financial support. We allowed ourselves to be convinced by the prejudice of the time and didn’t speak out.” […]
Interestingly, in the four minutes or so of highlights from the last service at the cathedral (in 2012) there seems to have been a good number of black parishioners, some of whom appear to be African immigrants. I wonder how many of them were aware of the history?