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Author ORCID Identifier


Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Afro-American Studies

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Traci Parker

Second Advisor

Manisha Sinha

Third Advisor

James Smethurst

Fourth Advisor

Barbara Krauthamer

Subject Categories

American Studies | History | United States History


This dissertation discusses the deep roots of the movement undertaken by Black leaders in Providence, Rhode Island, to win back the right to vote in 1842. This was the only instance in which a state re-enfranchised Black men before the Civil War. To successfully do so, the capital city’s Black leaders used a unique and instructive strategy of agitation and accommodation to republican principles. Analysis of what I call the Black “leadership class” reveals that there was deep nuance in their activism, and that resulted in, at times, accommodating to the ideology of Rhode Island’s General Assembly, which was deeply conservative and held fast to Revolutionary-era republican principles. As the Black community in Providence coalesced into potent body politic unto itself, the backlash from the expanding poor white population led to its formal disfranchisement – a national trend that much scholarship has addressed. Exploiting ties to powerful white Rhode Islanders and publicly portraying a sense of republican respectability, Black leaders were able to agitate when necessary and put forward an airtight case for the right to vote, outflanking disfranchised whites whose movement fell apart when they failed to include Black leaders in their movement. Providence’s Black leaders were able to deconstruct the arguments used to keep them disenfranchised, forcing white Rhode Islanders to admit that skin color alone – not a pseudo-scientifically perceived incapability or deeply established legal doctrine – was their only barrier to an equitable form of citizenship. This dissertation brings to light what a successful political movement can look like in a country steeped in republican philosophy, while addressing its attendant complications. It complements the scholarship on antebellum Black communities, argues for the inclusion of Providence leaders’ voices to Black intellectual history, and provides contextual analysis of the centrality of race to ideas of republican – and American – citizenship.