Controversial figures removed from East Greenwich historic building
EAST GREENWICH, R.I. (WLNE)– As a national reckoning over statues and monuments–and the history behind them– continues to fuel controversy, a pair of figurines deemed “insensitive’ have been removed from the East Greenwich Historic Preservation Society.
The figures depict two men in shackles– one white, the other black– that were intended to denote the building’s history as the Second Kent County Jail.
According to a statement on the society’s website, “these figures were reproduced to be facsimiles of figures that were known to have been placed on the front of the circa 1790s Second Kent County Jail during the 18th and 19th centuries.” The “figures were meant to visually signal that the building was a jail at a time when literacy was not high in the United States.”
Charles Greenwood, a 46-year resident of the town, said he hadn’t noticed the figures until he began spending more time walking through the neighborhood during quarantine.
“I was taken aback that they would have anything like that up,” Greenwood said. “I’m all for taking it away and letting it be neutral.”
Following a public outcry, the society issued a statement on its website explaining the decision:
“The East Greenwich Historic Preservation Society has determined that we will remove the reproduction carved figures of the black and white shackled prisoners on the front of the ‘Old Jail’ building in East Greenwich, our headquarters, as they could be viewed as insensitive or offensive. We stand for inclusivity and respect in carrying out our mission of connecting our shared history to our lives today.”
Greenwood said he’s happy with the decision, and sees it as a step toward further changes in the state, such as the debate over whether to remove “Plantations” from Rhode Island’s official name.
“Even like the historical context of the word plantation– it’s not appropriate anymore,” Greenwood said. It causes a great number of people to feel upset and discriminated against, so I’m for getting rid of those things.”
The East Greenwich Historical Society did not say where the statues would be stored, or if they would be available for viewing again in another context.
©WLNE-TV/ABC 6 2020