Letter: Before issuing the ‘racist’ label, consider the facts

Posted 12/10/20

Reporter Tom Mooney, who earlier interviewed me about my objection to removing the words “Providence Plantations” from the state’s name — a view the Journal allowed me to …

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Letter: Before issuing the ‘racist’ label, consider the facts

Posted

Reporter Tom Mooney, who earlier interviewed me about my objection to removing the words “Providence Plantations” from the state’s name — a view the Journal allowed me to express in an Oct. 27 editorial — called me for my comment after the removal referendum was approved. I did not respond, not from sour grapes like the proverbial fox, but because no verbal comment was needed. The electorate had spoken.

I let my actions do the talking. Two weeks ago, my expanded history of South Providence was released by the Rhode Island Publications Society and Arcadia Books. The revised book covered the period from 1969 through 2002 and contains photos and praise via captions for such Black neighborhood leaders of that era as Mike Van Leesten, whom I nominated and inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame; my teammate and lifetime buddy, Councilman Johnny Rollins; my fellow developer, Councilman Lloyd Griffin, for whom I published a eulogy upon his death and then inducted him into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame; State Representative Joe Almeida, who I helped with the financing of his nightclub; Senator Charles Walton who beat me in a 1983 Democratic primary; and even state Senator Harold Metts, who has unfairly criticized me for using the tax sale process to revitalize my former South Providence neighborhood.

Ironically, Metts, upon whom I showered deserved praise, was the principal legislative sponsor of the plantations bill.

In addition, our Hall of Fame inducted two long-neglected Black suffragists — Bertha Higgins and Roberta Dunbar — on Sunday, Dec. 6, in Bristol’s DeWolf Tavern. Receiving for Higgins and Dunbar was Ray Rickman, who was a leader in the plantation deletion campaign.  His impressive “Stages of Freedom” project has been the recipient of a large grant from my Heritage Harbor Foundation, and I also work closely with him on other Black heritage projects.

The inductor for Dunbar and Higgins was Hall of Fame director Dr.  Joyce Stevos, a leader of the Native American community and a distinguished educator who is also featured in the South Providence book.

Ironically, Dec. 6 is the date in 1865 that Georgia ratified the Thirteenth Amendment allowing this ban on slavery to become a part of the U.S. Constitution. Dec. 6, rather than so-called “Juneteenth” (June 18), should be the holiday that Black Americans seek.

I recite this litany to rebut some of the “racist” criticism directed at me because of the support I expressed for retention of the words “Providence Plantations” in my Journal column.  Actually, my principal concern was for the retention of God’s Divine Providence. Roger Williams would feel the same way.

One disgruntled reader even suggested that I be impeached and removed from my honorary position as Rhode Island Historian Laureate. At least he did not propose that my salary of $0 be confiscated!

Patrick T. Conley
Bristol

Mr. Conley is president of the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, the Heritage Harbor Foundation, and the Rhode Island Publications Society.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.