Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Rowena R. Stewart's Letter to Rhett Jones


I am so sorry I can not be here tonight for you. But in
all honesty, I
doubt if you would have wanted to attend any such event
yourself - being as
anti-sociable as you were. Parties were your least
favorite thing to do and George's
parties were what you dreaded most! I can hear you
now, protesting
attending. I also recall that three people, myself, Rowena
Stewart, George Bass,
and you, Rhett Jones, the most visionary, started out
wanting to make sure
that citizens understood the contributions of those
Africans who arrived on the
shores of this nation, first as free blacks and later as
enslaved laborers
and craftsman. We wanted all people to know and understand
the significance of
what Africans and African Americans contributed to the
development of the
nation. Each of us in our own unique way made lasting
contributions to the
academy. I am particularly aware of four of your major
1) You initiated the research and scholarship of African
American history in
the region, forming the New England Coalition of Scholars
to assist the
museum in interpreting
African American history. You exposed an incredible array
of scholars to the
Rhode Island Black Heritage Society including Robert
Cottrell, J. Coultry,
Moses Wilson, Alice
Myrtle Glascoe, Gary Puckrin, and Jim Deetz. Your
outstanding scholarship
shone in the exhibits like the award winning Creative
Survival exhibition.
2) You began a network of scholars that you encouraged to
become involved in
the African American Museum movement. I think the world
needs to know that
the organization was formed right here, at Brown
University in Churchill house
in September of 1978.
3) You began the research for performance technique. Under
your guidance
Rights and Reasons Theater used scholars research as the
basis for the creation
plays by famous playwrights like P. J. Gibson. These
plays based on the
scholarly research brought ordinary people into the
theater, thirsty to learn
their own communities history, leaving satisfied after
attending these
gratifying and historically accurate productions. You
helped scholars and museum
people understanding that through theatre we
could use history and bring it to people who would
otherwise be unaware of
this important history and uninterested in theater.
I am thinking of history based theatrical productions such
as Providence
Garden Blues (Providence citizens surviving segregation in
a northern city) and
Free to Die (black solders in the revolutionary war)
4) You, perhaps as your most lasting contribution, helped
African American
directors to understand that they should not fear research
by non-African
Americans in the field of History and to understand that
it made our cause
more solid.

Rhett, I must chuckle picturing you here with us. But
alas, you must
attend the biggest social event of your life, joining
George and your beloved wife
at the event we will shall all eventually attend. On the
we attend that
event of our lifetimes, each of us will be recognized for
the accomplishments we
have left behind. This night we humbly do attempt to let
the world know
what a forward thinking warrior in the fight for the
recognition of the
accomplishments of the people of African descent in this
nation you truly were.

Rowena R. Stewart

Thank you, Dear Rowena Stewart for this tremendous, wonderful letter.

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