The Rhode Island Slave History Medallions project aims to educate the public about the history of slavery in Rhode Island and the contributions of African Americans in the state. Our Newport Bureau Reporter Cheryl Hatch spoke with the project’s founder, Charles Roberts, who invited her to Patriots Park in Portsmouth to discuss the historic role of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, known as The Black Regiment. The integrated regiment fought in the American Revolution and was at the Battle of Rhode Island in 1778. Listen to the interview or read the transcript below.

CHARLES ROBERTS: I must say it’s amazing for me to be standing here in a place that people don’t realize in this polarized time, that there was an integrated army that fought for our freedom. That it’s important for us to come here and experience the actual location.

CHERYL HATCH: So, we’re here at the Patriots Park in Portsmouth, and there’s a Slave History Medallion here.

ROBERTS: Yes, that was the first Slave History Medallion and we mark the landscape of Rhode Island history with a bronze medallion that is in the shape of an angel image and sits on either pedestals or buildings. And the significance of it is that it has a QR code attached to it, so visitors from anywhere can come to the location, scan the location with their phone, and the history of that location comes right up on their phone.

HATCH: What’s the significance of Patriots Park, both to you and to the history of this island?

ROBERTS: Patriots Park is significant to me because here I learned from my Uncle Paul Gaines, who was the first Black mayor of Newport, and in New England, my identity as an African  American and my part in the history of the Revolutionary War. So that I had an opportunity to live the history that I was born in. I’m a reenactor with the First Black Regiment. That was the first regiment of slaves and indigenous people who fought in the Revolutionary War under their commander, Colonel Christopher Greene.

HATCH: As we’ve been standing here, cars have been whizzing by and whizzing by and whizzing by. Do you know if many people know that this is here? Because I’ve driven by here many times and I didn’t know this park was here.

ROBERTS: No, people don’t know it’s here because it was unfinished. When it started, back in the day, in the 70s and 80s, Black history wasn’t considered that popular. We were happy, with the help of the NAACP, just to get this location, a real location where the Battle of Rhode Island was fought. So, in fact, I’m talking with Jack Reed and Senator Whitehouse about making more signage and doing tours directly from Newport to Patriots Park.

The Slave History Medallions project is partnering with the City of Newport, Newport Historical Society, Newport Middle Passage and Sankofa to host events celebrating Juneteenth and local Black history in Newport on Sunday and Monday.

Cheryl Hatch can be reached at