Cape Verdean History: The 49th Annual Cape Verdean Independence Festival

Live Music at Cape Verdean Music Festival 2024. 

Photo: RI Cape Verdean Heritage

Rhode Island is home to one of the largest populations of Cape Verdean Americans in the country. An estimated 18,000 Cape Verdeans call the Ocean State home, a population second only to Massachusetts, which is home to an estimated 70,000 Cape Verdeans.

Located approximately 350 miles off the west coast of Africa, Cape Verde is an archipelago comprising 10 islands and five islets. The islands were uninhabited until 1460 when Portuguese explorers arrived and recognized the archipelago’s potential as a hub for maritime activity. The source of labor for this effort mirrored that of many European settlements of the time, and relied on trafficking Africans for slave labor. The melding of these distinct cultures came to form the Creole language and lifestyle that would come to define Cape Verde.

Ocean-based survival became the bedrock of the nation’s labor, diet, imports, exports, and very existence. During the mid-to-late 1800s, a severe class distinction formed, and extreme poverty persisted. Droughts and starvation forced many Cape Verdeans to seek refuge abroad. Southern New England was already a well-known port through trade and commerce, and many Cape Verdeans made the journey west and settled in Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts.

In Massachusetts, Brockton, Fall River, and New Bedford became common destinations. And in Rhode Island, Providence’s Fox Point neighborhood became a hub of Cape Verdean immigration. Nestled along the edges of the upper-class East Side, Cape Verdean immigrants found housing in the old, wooden-framed residences along the waterfront. They found employment at the docks, in nearby factories, in the homes of the wealthy, and of course Brown University, which dominated their geographical space, increasingly so as the years went on.


In the 1940s, Cape Verdeans were the dominant demographic throughout Fox Point; but by the 1970s, gentrification was encroaching on the area, and the steady and consistent expansion of Brown further pushed longtime residents out to nearby areas such as East Providence and Pawtucket.

On July 5, 1975, Cape Verde gained full independence from Portugal. 2024 marks the 49th year of Cape Verdean independence. For the past 10 years, the city of Providence has celebrated with a Cape Verdean independence festival. This year, the annual festival takes place on Sunday, July 7 from noon to 7pm at the Temple to Music in Roger Williams Park. This year’s family-friendly festivities will celebrate everything Cape Verdean culture has to offer, including traditional music, dance, and food, as well as cultural, health & wellness, and educational tents. There will be arts, crafts, and games for children, so bring the family, arrive hungry, and prepare to be greeted by the warmth of Cape Verdean hospitality, Lil Rhody style.

To learn more about Cape Verdean history in Rhode Island, I recommend a visit to Pawtucket’s Cape Verdean Museum located at 617 Prospect St. The museum is open every Friday and Sunday from 1 – 5pm. To learn more about the Cape Verdean Independence Festival, visit ricapeverdeanheritage. org