All posts by Keith Stokes

TO BE SOLD: African Slave Advertisements in Colonial Newport


Newport Mercury HeaderFor our county’s first 250 years, millions of enslaved Africans lived and worked within the original thirteen colonies and the ever-expanding United States of America. Rhode Island was one of the earliest and most active shipping sites in the American colonies, which between 1705 and 1805 launched nearly 1,000 slaving voyages, frequently from the port at Newport. Continue reading

A Woman of Valor

WWI_iconOne of the least researched and publicly presented subjects in the history of WWI has been the contributions of African American women both home and abroad. Throughout the war years, women of color contributed to the war effort in important ways individually and through services organizations including the YWCA and American Red Cross. One extraordinary contribution by an African American woman buried within the pages of WWI and American history, is the story of Dr. Harriet Alleyne Rice. Continue reading

Preparing for Conflict Overseas and at Home

WWI_iconAs President Woodrow Wilson in August of 1917 declared war on Germany saying, “The world must be made safe for democracy,” the United States would enter the war in Europe. That statement would particularly resonate at home to America’s African American citizenship, where the basic ideals of Democracy where all citizens can equally enjoy social, economic, educational and political freedoms seemed unfulfilled. Continue reading

Eager to Fight for Equality

WWI_iconThis news article of 1918 comes from our family collection that includes items from my great uncle, Charles Henry Barclay who during WWI served as a 1st Lieutenant with the 372nd regiment in France. The article describes the concerns that African American (Negro) soldiers were being given more dangerous combat duties as compared to white soldiers. The American Expeditionary Forces during the war were commanded by General John “Black Jack” Pershing who responds directly to the reports as false and that the “Negroes were in high spirits and that their only complaint was that they were not given more active service.” Those comments coming from General Pershing are historically relevant due to his own interaction with African American troops that dated back to 1892 when he took command of the 10th Cavalry Regiment, nicknamed the “Buffalo Soldiers.” During the Spanish American War, Pershing would lead the 10th Cavalry on the famous charge at San Juan Hill joining the famous Rough Riders of future President Theodore Roosevelt. Pershing’s command of African American troops leading up to the First World War would enthuse his fellow officers to give him the nickname, “Black Jack” largely as a sardonic description of his command. Continue reading

The Fight For Equality At Home & Overseas

WWI_iconBy 1918, as America entered the First World War, the political and military consensus was that African American soldiers would not fight alongside white soldiers in combat. Although American soldiers of color were ready to fight and die for their country, many who would serve under an American flag would be relegated to supporting roles and labor regiments. The French however, had no misgivings about utilizing black troops. Allied American and French commanders agreed that segregated black regiments would fight with the French Army under the command of French commanding officers. Continue reading

Still on the Plantation

WWI_iconThe years leading up to and through WWI, America would see the first Great Migration of African American families who would move from the rural south to urban cities in the north. During that time nearly 2 million men, women and children would leave the plantations and farms of the rural south to find better work and living opportunities in urban cities like New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland and Chicago. Continue reading

The Symbol of One America

In the Richmond Times Dispatch

Posted: Thursday, April 3, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 12:43 pm, Thu Apr 3, 2014.


On the morning of April 3, 1865, Union troops entered the city of Richmond, then capital of the Confederate States of America. Richmond had become the holy grail of the Union war effort, in a civil war between Americans of Northern and Southern persuasions that would claim an estimated 620,000 combatants who would give their lives in the line of duty.

Born and raised a Northerner from a multiracial family, I was taught in school to see the Civil War from the perspective of the North fighting to end slavery and restoring the Union. Southerners and those who would fight for the Confederate cause were on the wrong side of morality and history. As I matured and exposed myself to the complexities of the time and its issues, I learned more Continue reading

The Activist Cleric of the Early Civil Rights Movement


Rev. Samuel Hopkins

2013 is a special year for Newport, for Rhode Island and for the nation. It is the 350th anniversary of the Rhode Island Colonial Charter, one of the nation’s earliest compacts to affirm religious toleration and freedom. It is the 250th anniversary of the completion of Newport’s Touro Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in America and the place in 1790 where President George Washington reaffirmed the importance of civil liberties and citizenship regardless of religion. And 2013 is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Peace. The connecting theme between these three historic anniversaries is the recognition of all people’s inherent rights of personal and civil freedoms.

As we celebrate the importance of our cherished freedoms in America, we should also recognize that well before civil and human rights leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Fredrick Douglas, and Martin Luther King, there was a bold minister in 18th century Newport who had the audacity to believe – and preach – that all men were created equal. Continue reading

Thin Line Between Slavery, Humanity & Chickens


Image: Harper’s Weekly, July 4, 1863

The September 27, 1856 edition of the Richmond Times Dispatch ran what might have been for most readers at the time an amusing story concerning stolen chickens from the farm of one of the city’s prominent citizens. The news story describes a slave named Brittan belonging to a George Turner being under arrest and sentenced in the Mayor’s Court for the theft of a number of valuable hens from Richard Forrester’s farm. The article (extracted) entitled, “A Chicken Fancier” dripped with sarcasm and amusement as it described: Continue reading

Provisional Liberty in Early Rhode Island

Pos04 2013 is the 350th anniversary celebration of the Rhode Island Royal Charter.

Dated July 8, 1663, it was drafted by Dr. John Clarke of Newport. Clarke worked for over a decade to secure the charter from England’s King Charles II who finally granted establishing the “Colony of Rhode Island & Providence Plantations.” The document uniquely guaranteed a “freedom of religious concernments” for its citizens. But it is the definition and requirements of full citizenship that lead to murky circumstances for non-Protestant Christians. Continue reading