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Heritage Programs: Subcommittees: African American

Heritage Programs: Emancipation Day

Smiles at the park: A day for celebrating freedom and fun
BY LINDA BORG, Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE -- More than one hundred years ago, members of the black community were urged to "lay aside labor and assemble in nature's garden, with the blue vault of heaven for a covering, and express how we love liberty and hate slavery."

Those words were not, however, a reference to the emancipation of black Americans. Rather, they honored a different emancipation day -- Aug. 1, 1834 -- when 800,000 West Indians were released from slavery by Great Britain.

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Journal photo / Bill Murphy
The face in the mirror is Debbie Charpentier, of East Greenwich, who is modeling a Wampanoag beaded necklace for boyfriend David Petrarca, of Warwick, and saleswoman Patricia Snow Falcon.

In Providence, the earliest record of Emancipation Day dates back to Aug. 4, 1849, when, according to the Daily Transcript and Free Soil Advocate, "the proceedings of the day cannot fail to give new impulse to the spirit of anti-slavery among our colored citizens."
Yesterday, about 200 people gathered in Waterplace Park to celebrate not only that historic moment 160 years ago, but the cause of freedom and human rights across the globe.

While Earl Bright and the Elevated launched into a gospel song, local vendors sold everything from beaded jewelry and straw handbags to batiked shirts and dresses.

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Journal photo / Bill Murphy
JUGGLERS: Mike Plotz, left, and Gregory Brown of the Providence Circus School entertain.

Peggy Merrill, a sixty-something woman from Rehoboth, sunned herself on the steps, nodding her head to the gospel music below.
"Why am I here?" she said, "the beautiful music -- and to honor the African-American past."

Earl Lynch, 39, a new home owner in Providence, said he hopes Mayor David Cicilline will continue to press for change in a city beset by budget shortfalls and gang violence.

"It's time to bring unity to this community, to bring stability to a dying community" he said. "I hope that the mayor sticks to his campaign promise to make Providence a better place."

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Journal photo / Bill Murphy
Seven year-old D'Andra Thomas chats with her father, Thomas Harris, before he performs with his band, Elevated.

The three-day event was sponsored by the Emancipation Day Committee, the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & (Hertage) Commission and the International Gallery of Heritage and Culture. It was dedicated to Michael (Rap) Garcia, who helped reinstate the annual celebration. Garcia died March 7. He was 50 years old.