Stages of Freedom Museum in Rhode Island

The Stages of Freedom Museum is the only one if it’s kind in Rhode Island. It’s a teaching museum that hosts a collection of donated books, art, collectables and more with a mission to build community by creating and providing programming about black Rhode Island life and culture to an interracial audience.

About the Stages of Freedom Museum

Ray Rickman, Executive Director (00:01) – I’m Ray Rickman. This is Stages of Freedom, Rhode Island’s premier African American nonprofit. This museum, you’re supposed to feel good in. You’re supposed to get educated in it. It will be the only African American Museum in Rhode Island.

Robb Dimmick, Program Director (00:21) Stages of Freedom is an important name because it can be looked at in several ways. That is the stage that we perform on. It’s also the stages that we try to achieve. And we’re constantly struggling for that and rising to a new stage, we hope.

RR (00:38) – This is a bank building built in 1855, and it was the tallest building in New England for 13 months. This is a teaching museum. When they show up, they can ask questions, and people do. And people need to ask questions.

Swimming Lessons for Black Children

RD (00:57) – This place is chockablock with books, art, collectibles, small furnishings, antiques, all of which have been donated, and all of which, when sold, help pay for swimming lessons for African American children in Rhode Island.

RR (01:10) – Black children drown five and a half times more often than anyone else in the world. But we do a year round swim program for about 500 African American youth every year. We believe it’s the biggest program in the country teaching black children how to swim.

African-American Stories

RD (01:29) – The museum, and the space itself really is a way of encapsulating what we’ve done for 40 years, which is to tell stories of extraordinary African American accomplishment and excellence. And so there are essentially two galleries. We’re sitting in the smaller of the two.

And in this gallery, there are three panels that tell the really remarkable story of Sissieretta Jones, known at the time as the greatest singer of her race and we believe probably the greatest singer during her lifetime. She was a trailblazer, who grew up on the east side, basically across from Congdon Street Baptist Church, the oldest standing black church in Rhode Island. She was a woman ahead of her time, and really paved the way for virtually any artist you can speak of today. And you can’t tell her story enough.

Two weeks ago, a very dear friend of ours walked into our museum and said…I have something extraordinary to give to you. And it was this beautiful little painting of Becky Howard by the artist Stetson who was a very close friend and co-founder with Edward Bannister, who, with other gentlemen created the Providence art clubs. The second oldest art club in America sits on Thomas Street.

RR (02:46) – Our goal in life is to get support for our Stages of Freedom and to get people to come and support means financial, but it also means we do a lot of teaching. And we want people to learn because if they knew more, they do more.