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"Slavery, Emancipation, and Race in New England"

April 25, 2019

"Slavery, Emancipation, and Race in New England" is a six-week history course taught by Dr. Joanne Pope Melish through the Center for Reconciliation. Class sessions are held once a week and last 90 minutes. Each session consists of a brief lecture, followed by in-class examination and interpretative discussion of a short primary source document.


Students are encouraged to read the provided documents in advance of each class, but there are no other mandatory assignments. Register here:


For spring 2019, we are offering the course in two locations on different days of the week:

WESTERLY SESSION: Mondays @ 6-7:30 PM (April 29 - June 3)
Location: Westerly Education Center, 23 Friendship St., Westerly, RI 02891


PROVIDENCE SESSION: Wednesdays @ 6-7:30 PM (May 1 - June 5)
Location: Cathedral of St. John, 271 North Main St., Providence, RI 02903




The course registration fee is $65.00.

The Center for Reconciliation also offers the Phillis, Rose & Fanny Memorial Scholarship for individuals who identify as Black/African/African American or Indigenous/American Indian/Native American. Recipients of this scholarship receive free registration.  Applications are due by April 15, 2019.  For more information or if you have any questions, please email




"Slavery, Emancipation, and Race in New England" examines New England’s complex relationship with slavery and its racial legacies, a crucial part of the region's story, and the broader story of America. The rise of maritime commercial New England (and Rhode Island, in particular) was fueled by the American trade in enslaved Africans and the use of enslaved indigenous and African laborers in New England to produce cheese, grain, livestock, and other commodities for export to the slave societies of the West Indies.


The second, industrial phase of New England’s growth and development was rooted in the success of its textile industry, which was almost entirely dependent on slave-grown cotton and Southern markets for cotton and woolen textiles to clothe enslaved people. At the same time, slavery as a moral and political issue inflamed New England politics in both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The course will explore these historical developments and their racialized legacies, including the 20th century effects of urban renewal, gentrification, preservation, and the war on drugs.




Joanne Pope Melish is an associate professor emerita of 19th-century U.S. history at the University of Kentucky, where she served as director of the American Studies program and co-director of Africana Studies for several years. She is the author of "Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and ‘Race’ in New England, 1780-1860" (Cornell University Press, 1998) and has written essays on race and slavery in the early republic and the treatment of slavery in public history and pedagogy.


Dr. Melish received her B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in American Civilization from Brown University. She currently holds an appointment as a visiting scholar of American Studies at Brown University, and also serves as a consultant at the Center for Reconciliation, where she assists with program facilitation, historical research, and exhibition development.


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