Local historian shares memories of Providence past

Stanley Crum, center, is presented with a plaque by Kristen Salemi, director of the Student
Union, and Robert Cvornyek, professor of history.
Stanley Thomas Crum, local historian and community leader, used his warm personality and vivid recall of Providence in the 1940s and 50s to connect with students in a Feb. 21 discussion in the Student Union Ballroom.

Crum sat down with RIC history professor Robert Cvornyek for nearly 90 minutes for an African American History Month event titled, “I’ll Take You There: An Intimate Look at Black Providence,” co-sponsored by Student Activities and the History Department.

Crum spoke about growing up in the Elmwood section of Providence, moving several times, and attending several different schools in Providence.

From building his own bicycle, to sitting on his steps getting haircuts and hanging out at the corner at Jenny’s Ice Cream shop, Crum recollected these times with impeccable details, giving color and meaning to the stories he shared.

During his time living on the East Side of Providence, he saw local political figures taking to the streets to acquire votes and to encourage the black vote. Providence political figures around this time included names such as Richard Dudley and Dixie Matthews.

Crum shared his memories of the 1930s and 40s, where the black community stretched from Benefit Street to Wickenden Street in Providence. This neighborhood was significantly divided: half of the street’s residents were black, the other half, white. Crum soon realized that the black residents were actually housekeepers, cooks and babysitters living across the street from their potential employers.

Cvornyek covered several topics, but it was music, specifically jazz, where Crum truly lit up.

Crum spoke about his memories at the Capital Theatre, which was located on Westminster Street. Capital was the home of many headlining musical acts, and regularly showed movies at the city’s most affordable prices.

Crum reminisced on times spent at the Celebrity club, Zanzibar, Downbeat and several other Providence jazz and music clubs, seeing many live musicians, including the Dorsey Band. Crum has also attended the Newport Jazz Festival for 20 straight years.

“If you talk music, I’ll grin forever,” said Crum.

He attended Central High school, where he discovered another one of his passions: sports. At Central, he excelled at football, gymnastics, and track.

At 17 years old, during his junior year at Central, Crum left high school to join the Navy. After World War II, he returned to Central to complete high school, and continued to play football.

Crum was also a member of BY-KI-PU, Rhode Island’s oldest black golf club.

Crum’s ability to recall precise facts and locations about his Providence neighborhoods is perhaps attributable to his career working as one of the first African American cartographers for the Department of Defense. During his 30 years of service there, he received many citations for his map making, especially during the Vietnam War era.

Crum now volunteers his time sharing his memories and knowledge on African American history. He is a gifted teacher, and is known for taking students into the communities to gain a more intimate perspective on the history.

Sharon Mazyck ‘74, Crum’s daughter and a former Rhode Island College employee, closed the event with a solo singing performance.

Crum was presented with a plaque by Kristen Salemi, director of the RIC Student Union. The plaque included a picture of Crum and a quote that he is fond of using: “No matter what you decide to do, be the best.”