Salve Regina’s documentary on slave dwellings to air on Rhode Island PBS
“Where They Slept,” a five-minute web feature produced by Jamie McGuire, digital production manager, has been reimagined as a half-hour special that will premiere on Rhode Island PBS at 6 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28.
In October 2015, historian Joseph McGill, founder of the Slave Dwelling Project, spent the night at Smith’s Castle in North Kingstown as part of his continuing efforts to raise awareness of the extant slave dwellings that oftentimes exist side-by-side, or even within, celebrated historic buildings. Assistant professor Dr. Jon Marcoux and three students from the Noreen Stonor Drexel Cultural and Historic Preservation Program joined McGill and local historian Robert Geake for the overnight stay in the historic building.
“I think it’s an understatement to say that our visit to Smith’s Castle and our discussions with Mr. McGill and Mr. Geake were transformative,” Marcoux said. “There is no amount of reading or talking about a slave’s life that can compare with actually going up to the attic where he or she slept and to see the cramped, slanted ceilings and the lack of a fireplace – to leave through the hatched door that opens so easily for us but was likely secured with a heavy lock for them. The students and I are fortunate to be at an institution that promotes social justice as part of its mission. I strongly believe that this experience has inspired all of us to be even more committed to that mission and to respect and promote the dignity of the people whose daily lives we explore as scholars.”
Through a continuing collaborative relationship with Rhode Island PBS, McGuire was able to expand the story to focus in greater detail on the history of Smith’s Castle and the Narragansett Plantations’ greater significance in the developing narrative about slavery in Rhode Island. Telling the story through McGill’s unique perspective was key to the extended version.
“There are so many ways to not talk about the prominent role that slavery played in Rhode Island’s past,” McGuire said. “We’ve gotten used to looking at our history through a distorted lens that tells a story that we are comfortable with. What Joe McGill is doing is refocusing us. He’s saying to us: You’re not sure there were slaves in Rhode Island? Look, here’s where they slept. Now it’s real. And it’s uncomfortable. And that’s where we need to be.”
“These people lived a life that they should not have lived,” McGill says in the program, “but they lived the life nonetheless. A life that should not be forgotten.”