An exhibit about the contributions of black gay men to Rhode Island, its culture and its politics premiered Thursday evening at the John Hay Library. Rhode Island College professor Daniel Scott kicked off the display with a lecture about his work documenting the oral history of the traditionally overlooked minority group.
Black Lavender 2, which curator Robb Dimmick spun off from an earlier Black Lavender exhibit, broadens its scope to include politicians, artists, civic leaders and academics in the state throughout the 20th century. The first exhibit, shown at the Hay in 2005, focused on black gay writers.
The exhibit stands in a small room near the entrance of the library, but what it lacks in space to spread out it makes up in its wealth of material. The glass cases contain photographs, flyers, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia that commemorate the represented figures.
The writer James Baldwin, who only visited Rhode Island once to speak at the First Baptist Church in America, has a mug in his section of the display case that is emblazoned with his portrait. Poet Langston Hughes is represented by a poem ("Ask Your Mama!") that he wrote in Newport.
Some of the men featured in the exhibit were visitors — frequent visitors like Hughes or one-time celebrities such as Baldwin. They are public servants and performers, artists and writers.
There is a section titled Black, Gay and Brown, showcasing people like Ed Brockenbrough '95, who contributed to literary magazines during his time as a student.
Scott, an English professor at RIC who conducted 16 separate interviews for the project, said in his lecture that despite recognition of these men and their achievements, very few black gay men have yet come forward with their stories. He emphasized that Rhode Island's size plays a major role in gay black men's sense of community — the people to whom he spoke said the state's small size make it relatively easy for people to know about each other.
"The positive spin on that is we have a more intimate community," Scott said, but he added that people were also probably reluctant to share too much with others for fear of losing their sense of privacy.
Scott said when he asked his subjects what they most wanted to see happen in the state, many responded that they hoped they could foster a better sense of community.
Black Lavender 2 itself aims to achieve a similar goal — by commemorating the achievements of the highlighted men, the project keeps alive the legacies and contributions they made to Rhode Island, ensuring that each man's presence does not soon wane.
Midway through the night, Mayor David Cicilline '83 arrived at the library to present a proclamation that declared Thursday "Black Lavender 2 Day" in Providence.
Black Lavender 2, on the ground floor of the John Hay Library, is open during library hours through Jan. 8.