EG Preservation Group to Remove Racial Stereotype

by | Jun 18, 2020

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The East Greenwich Historic Preservation Society is removing two figurines from the front of their headquarters – the Old Jail building at King and Water streets – after questions were raised about the appropriateness of the carved figurines, a white man and a black man in shackles. 

While the figurines were modeled after figurines that were on the building in the 18th and 19th centuries, they were only installed there in 2016, after the EGHPS commissioned them in an effort “to bring the building’s facade more closely to its original appearance,” according to a statement issued Thursday from the organization. 

From their statement:  

The East Greenwich Historic Preservation Society has determined that we will remove the reproduction carved figures of the black and white shackled prisoners on the front of the “Old Jail” building in East Greenwich, our headquarters, as they could be viewed as insensitive or offensive. We stand for inclusivity and respect in carrying out our mission of connecting our shared history to our lives today.

The action comes after a prompt from Johann Patlak, who is organizing a Black Lives Matter protest on Saturday, June 20, at 6 p.m. (Read more HERE.)

“I opened a dialogue about the concerning optics of a shackled Black man caricature on the side of a building, regardless of the apparent historic accuracy,” said Patlak Thursday. “They were incredibly receptive to the issue, and I look forward to working with them on further issues about racial history representation in EG. My biggest concern is that seeing this sort of thing creates an unwelcoming atmosphere and I’m very pleased that their facade is now more closely aligned with their mission of inclusivity.”

Originally, the protest was to begin outside the Old Jail and proceed to Town Hall, but Patlak said in light of the EGHPS decision to remove the figurines, they would hold a stationary protest at Town Hall.  

Here’s the entire EGHPS statement: 

The East Greenwich Historic Preservation Society has determined that we will remove the reproduction carved figures of the black and white shackled prisoners on the front of the “Old Jail” building in East Greenwich, our headquarters, as they could be viewed as insensitive or offensive.  We stand for inclusivity and respect in carrying out our mission of connecting our shared history to our lives today.

As was publicized at the time, these figures were reproduced to be facsimiles of figures that were known to have been placed on the front of the circa 1790’s Second Kent County Jail during the 18th and 19th centuries.  These figures were meant to visually signal that the building was a jail at a time when literacy was not high in the United States.  Further, we understand that having a figure of a white man and a black man, each shackled, was intended to show that punishment was expected to be administered to all prisoners, regardless of race.  While the Rhode Island Historical Society has had the original figure of the white prisoner in its collection since 1859, the figure of the black prisoner had been lost. When the EGHPS commissioned reproduction figures from a local artist in 2016, its intentions were to bring the building’s facade more closely to its original appearance.

Our past work highlighting Winsor Fry, a formerly enslaved man that fought in nine Revolutionary War battles and who was an East Greenwich resident, and other projects, are just some of the ways in which we provide opportunities to connect our shared history to our lives today.  We hope to continue this good work and welcome everyone to continue on our collective journey to make sense of, and reckon with, our shared history.

We appreciate this opportunity to reiterate our message of welcome, respect and inclusivity.

– EGHPS

You can read more about Winsor Fry HERE.


 

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13 Comments

  1. Charles

    Nothing but bull…let’s erase history so that we forget and repeat mistakes

    Reply
    • Alex

      Greatest decision ever to get rid of that racist statue. Bravo EG!

      Reply
    • BOB INGERSON

      right on charles. seem it’s ok to have a white man in shackles, but god for bid a black man. it just PC , pure and simple.

      Reply
    • EG Citizen

      Trying to understand the comment…does this say that if we remove a hurtful image of a Black person in shackles, we will forget our country’s abuses and mistakes of slavery and return to it? IMO the introductory remark of “nothing but bull” was a fitting and foresadowing introduction to the rest of the comment.

      Reply
  2. Joannie Hinman

    Kudos- excellent decision.

    Reply
  3. Claudia

    It comes down to this. What is more important: that we record the facts correctly and (our sins) openly to be “right” about history? … or we regard everyone ‘equally’ with humility, kindness, and humanity to create a better future. Seems like no brainor!

    Reply
  4. Judi McCullough Sheldon

    Inclusivity? Hmmmm is there not a white person depicted there as well? Is that not the old jail ?? Is that not a building of East Greenwich history ? If we do not keep the FACTS of our history how can we be expected to learn from it ?? Especially our children.

    Reply
  5. Judi McCullough Sheldon

    Why was my comment erased ? I said nothing offensive. I just commented this: inclusivity? Is not the other carving a white man in shackles ? Is that not the historical jail building ? Weren’t BOTH blacks and whites and OTHERS incarcerated there ?? If we sugar coat history we will expect facts to be sugar coated and learn nothing to our benefit.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth McNamara

      Judy, we approve every comment and hadn’t gotten to either of your comments yet. They are both now approved. We don’t erase comments.

      Reply
    • American Citizen

      Judi- obviously you’re not woke enough.

      Reply
  6. Brian Quigg

    Thank you EG Perservation Society. Good decision.

    Reply
  7. Carla Swanson

    I don’t think the statue presented an ah-ha moment for anyone, in terms of historical knowledge – and the image is painful. There is plenty of evidence all around us, every day, of slavery’s aftermath….welcome decision.

    Reply
  8. Ni

    Very impressive, Bravo work EG preservation society!

    Reply

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