Here’s a Sneak Peek of “Do Lord Remember Me: The Black Church in RI”

The traveling exhibition tells the history of black faith in the Ocean State.

The origin story of the First Baptist Church in America is a familiar one. A pretty, white, steepled meetinghouse that was built in 1774 and sits at the base of College Hill, the First Baptist serves as a glorious reminder of the congregation’s founder, Roger Williams, and his life’s work: religious freedom.

But, like so many storied institutions in Rhode Island, the First Baptist has a complicated racial history. Black congregants, who worshipped in hot, cramped “pigeon holes” in the upper galleries of the church, were assigned to the First Baptist. They were free men and women, but they didn’t have the same religious liberty as their white counterparts. So, in 1819, eight black leaders met with Moses Brown, the slave dealer-turned-abolitionist, and First Baptist's Pastor Gano, to ask permission to leave the white church and start one of their own.

“You have to think about the lunacy of this — that you have to go to church where you’re told,” says historian Ray Rickman from the lawn of the First Baptist, mere feet from the room where Gano and Brown eventually granted the black leaders their church.

Next week, Rickman’s nonprofit, Stages of Freedom, hosts an exhibition at First Baptist that tackles this complex history head-on. “Do Lord Remember Me: The Black Church in Rhode Island” features photographs, drawings and text that document the past 250 years of faith in Rhode Island’s black community. The exhibition launches at the First Baptist Church, 75 North Main St., Providence, on October 11 at 5 p.m. with a keynote address by Reverend Doris Hooks and a gospel tribute by Opera Providence. Then, the exhibit moves to Woonsocket’s Museum of Work and Culture on October 16 and Newport’s Redwood Library and Athenaeum on October 24.



Robb Dimmick, who curated the exhibition, says he was inspired by a previous Stages of Freedom project in 2015 about black performing artists in Rhode Island.

“One of the stories was church-related — the first piece of music written by an African performer, Newport Gardner, who was based in Newport,” Dimmick says. “He was also a founder of the first black church in Newport. So I started looking at this one particular case to see how the black church supported and groomed entertainers. That opened this whole window into the need for a larger story about the black church, and the fact that it was a clearinghouse and a powerhouse for everything that happened in the black community.”

Dimmick says the exhibition explores the many incarnations of faith in the black community, from headstone carvings and spiritual relics to gospel and chamber music.

“There’s a whole panel just on music — and not just the gospel tradition that was created by the African-American community,” he says. “Here in Rhode Island, there was a tremendous interest in European music and training classical musicians. One Newport pastor raised an entire family of string musicians, and they toured and played concerts.”

Rickman speaks plainly when he explains why the exhibition is an important one: “We’re of the belief that black folks would fare better if white folks knew us better,” he says.

Dimmick adds, “And it’s a subject that people are willing to discuss. It’s extraordinary and it’s completely overlooked or forgotten or misunderstood. The black church was so emblematic of the entire community. Nothing happened in the community that wasn’t sanctioned or promoted by the black church.”


To learn more about the exhibition, visit