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Special to What’s Up Newp | The following was written by Keith Stokes. This story was originally published on Feb. 9, 2020.


Persons of African heritage have lived, worked and worshiped in Newport since the mid-17th Century. Established as a major slave port, Newport would have one of the largest populations of enslaved and free Africans in the American Colonies.

In 1780, a group of African men assembled in Newport to organize and charter America’s first mutual aid society for African and later African Americans known as the Free African Union Society. Founding members included Abraham Casey, Salmar Nubia, Quam Bowers, Zingo Stevens, Quash Mowat, Cubber Rodman, Cudjo Hicks, Congo Jenkins, Cuffe Mumford and Arthur Tikey. Not to be outdone, Newport’s African women, led by Obour Tanner would establish the African Female Benevolent Society in 1809.

The center of the African heritage community then and today is the church. As an evolution of the Free African Union Society, Newport’s first African heritage church and congregation was chartered in 1824 as the Union Colored Congregational Church followed by Mount Zion AME Church in 1845, Shiloh Baptist in 1869 and Mount Olivet in 1897.  During the Gilded Age, Newport’s four vibrant congregations were the center of not only religious life, but provided an important outlet for social, educational and political exchange. The Newport Branch of the NAACP was established by Rev. James Lucas at the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in 1920. 

The images representing the people, places and events of Newport’s early African heritage religious community are courtesy of the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society Collections. 

MOUNT OLIVET BAPTIST CHURCH, 79 THAMES STREET

SHILOH BAPTIST CHURCH, 29 SCHOOL STREET

UNION COLORED CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH, 49 DIVISION STREET

MOUNT ZION AME CHURCH, 1 ZION PLACE

REV. WILLIAM REED & FAMILY, UNION CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH NEWPORT C. 1915

REVEREND JETER & FAMILY, SHILOH BAPTIST CHURCH, C. 1895

MT ZION AME CHURCH AT TOURO CHAPEL, BELLEVUE AVE, C. 1919

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