Hopkinton Town Council member Scott Bill Hirst stated in his letter to the editor that appeared in The Westerly Sun on July 10, 2021, “Improvement arguably perhaps can be made in better relations in our region, but ignoring positive current and past history is not helpful.”
As the only Black member of Hopkinton’s Town Council, I stand on the side of improving better relations in our region by telling our students the true history of the business of slavery in Rhode Island as well as pointing out the successes of Native Americans and Blacks in Hopkinton. Therefore, I am recommending that the Chariho School Committee and the Curriculum Subcommittee of the Anti-Racism Committee consider teaching the book, “Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island,” by Christy Clark-Pujara. This book documents the business of slavery in Rhode Island between 1652 and 1866. The economy of Rhode Island was built on the business of slavery because Rhode Island exported rum to purchase slaves, made “negro cloth” to sell to the slave owners in the South, and imported slaves after slavery was officially outlawed. This book also shows the Rhode Island General Assembly passed laws that defined who was a slave, what they could do, and ultimately when they were entitled to freedom, the vote, and equal education. Along the way, the Blacks in Rhode Island established benevolent societies to meet the needs of establishing churches, schools and financial aid for funerals.
Chariho students need to read an accurate history of Rhode Island. There are over 600 footnotes in this book. Then and only then can everyone understand the systemic causes (laws) of racism; the persistence of Blacks to obtain freedom and equality; and the need for the state government to provide additional financial assistance to low-performing school systems to give all students the opportunity for an equal education. Once this is achieved, I am hopeful that there will be better relations in our region.
The writer is vice president of the Hopkinton Town Council.