HISTORY LESSON Vincent and Montiero at the Meeting Street School, the first public school to be open to Afro-American children in 1828. [Photo by Richard McCaffrey]
On November 5, 1913, the President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s New York branch stepped to the podium of Beneficent Congregational Church in Providence. Standing before a crowd of over 500, Dr. Joel Spingarn spoke about the NAACP’s fight to end the segregation imposed by various laws and ordinances across the country.
“I have come to Providence to tell you how to organize, to fight for the rights which were given you 50 years ago today,” he said. When blacks were freed from slavery, Spingarn said, they were given the right to move freely from place to place, to own property, and to vote — all of which had been previously denied.
“But let me tell you there are places in this country, and all too numerous, where the Negro does not dare to move from, where he cannot own property, and where he is not allowed to vote,” he continued. “Our association is formed for the betterment of these conditions and I hope you men and women of Providence will add your flame to those that are already on the altar of liberty and justice.”
On Friday, November 1, 2013 — almost exactly a century after Spingarn’s address — a crowd will gather in Providence to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the NAACP branch that grew, in part, because of that speech. Like every annual NAACP Providence Freedom Fund Dinner, there will be awards handed out. (The Providence Journal’s Alisha Pina and Central Falls Mayor James Diossa are two of the evening’s honorees.) But there will also be a particularly esteemed out-of-town guest on hand to deliver the keynote address: US Representative John Lewis (D-Georgia), “the only living person who marched and spoke with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the march on Washington in 1963,” as NAACP Provi-dence branch president James Vincent explained in the press release announcing the gala.
How much has changed in Rhode Island for people of color since 1913, when the Providence NAACP branch was first organized? What might the next century bring? What does the branch focus on nowadays? Have the number of formal complaints to their legal redress committee dwindled over time?
These were a few of the questions the Phoenix asked Vincent — and his NAACP Providence branch predecessor, Clifford Montiero — over muffins and coffee on a recent morning at the Amos House Friendship Café on Broad Street in Providence. Together, the two men have over 13 years of experience as the local face of America’s most famous civil rights organization. “And don’t forget: we don’t get paid!” Montiero said.
The conversation has been edited and condensed.
LANGUAGE, ITSELF, IS CRITICAL TO THIS DISCUSSION, SO LET’S START THERE. WHEN PEOPLE READ THE FULL NAME OF THE NAACP THEY SEE THIS WORD THEY DON’T NECESSARILY SEE ANYMORE: “COLORED.”