October 21, 2014
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Trapped in history
Going back to our roots

“People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them,” wrote James Baldwin in “Notes of a Native Son.”

It’s true: we all look back to learn lessons for the future, and within ourselves we lock away our past experiences.

But often things that shape us go back further than our own lifetimes. We examine the paths of our forefathers and study how they crafted life as we know it today.

It was people like Don D’Amato, who served as the City Historian for roughly 25 years, who kept history alive.

D’Amato was known not only for his wealth of knowledge, but for the ways in which he shared it. Aside from being the City Historian, D’Amato was a columnist for the Warwick Beacon, and arguably most importantly, a teacher.

D’Amato was a teacher at Warwick Vets High School for 30 years, and he also taught at CCRI and Johnson & Wales.

His writings appeared in the Beacon shortly after his retirement, starting with his column “Historic Homes.” He then began writing “Then and Now” and eventually serialized a piece of historic fiction in the paper. It was proof that even when he left the classroom, D’Amato had a passion for educating others.

Now Henry Brown, the new City Historian, promises to do the same. Through his own first person experiences as a descendent of John Brown Francis, and through his extensive research, Brown plans to “continue doing what he’s been doing,” and spreading his knowledge to the community.

“What’s the use of having it if you can’t share it?” he asked.

Sharing history has become an integral part of our local sense of community.

The burning of the Gaspee happened in June of 1772, but it wasn’t until 1964 that Rhode Island began the annual Gaspee Days celebrations. Now the festivities include various organizations and institutions, including Wyman Elementary School, which performs their Historic Walking Tour each year.

It’s a sign that we’re returning to our roots, and discovering value to the days of yore.

There’s an innate desire in each of us to remember how it used to be, and compare it to the progress we’ve made. There’s room for speculation that we’ve regressed, but what’s the use in dwelling on that? The point of examining the past is to blaze a trail for a brighter future.

It’s people like Don D’Amato, and now, Henry Brown, who serve as our tour guides of the past. It’s their job to make our journey into the future that much more enlightened.

It’s important to embrace the past and carry it into the future. After all, we are trapped in history, and history, in turn, is trapped in us.


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