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Secretary Gorbea announces new exhibition – Bullets and Bulletins: African American Activism in Civil War Era Rhode Island

PROVIDENCE, RI – To help commemorate Black History Month, Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea today opened Bullets and Bulletins: African American Activism in Civil War Era Rhode Island. The exhibition is the first of a four-part series that will explore how activism in Rhode Island has shaped our history and influenced national civic conversations.

"The power of having such a rich and robust State Archives is that it serves as our very own time capsule that we can open at any time to see how the actions – big and small – by concerned citizenry can shape our history," Secretary Gorbea said. "We have so much to be proud of in Rhode Island's history and this exhibition series is a great opportunity to encourage civic pride and participation among all Rhode Islanders."

In Bullets and Bulletins, archival documents tell two important stories about activism in Rhode Island in the 1850s-1880s. One is the story of the black Americans, from Rhode Island and throughout the Union, who came forward to serve in the 14th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery. The other is the story of these same Americans' struggles on the home front – for equal access to education, for the right to marry someone of another race, and for the end of all discrimination "on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude."

For example, the authors of the 1865 Petition for Equal School Rights identified the need for integrated neighborhood schools. Writing that "education…like the sunlight of heaven should be free to all," the petitioners asked the General Assembly to eliminate the "last relics of slavery and barbarism remaining in this state." By taking up arms and taking to the streets, the African American community in Rhode Island actively shaped the fight for freedom and equality in Civil War era Rhode Island.

To complement its documentary holdings, the Rhode Island State Archives secured loans from the Rhode Island Historical Society and the Keith Stokes Family Collection. Among the items on loan are a hand-made Regimental Flag, a pair of period Field Glasses, and ephemera that document the activities of African American Rhode Islanders as they fought to win equal rights in their home state.

The exhibition will run February 3 – April 28, 2017.

The Rhode Island State Archives, a part of the Rhode Island Department of State, is open to the public Monday through Friday, 8:30 to 4:30 at 337 Westminster Street in downtown Providence. Validated parking is available adjacent to the building at InTown Parking. Additional images from the exhibition can be viewed online at the State Archives' Virtual Exhibitions page at


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  • Department or agency: Office of the Secretary of State
  • Online:
  • Release date: 02-03-2017

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