Seeking to conform with the racial sensitivities of the times, Rhode Island is lopping off part of its history along with its official state name.
Legally, Rhode Island is on the books as the “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.”
An executive order from Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo says that the governor’s office and all executive agencies under her control will officially use only “State of Rhode Island” as the state’s name in all correspondence until such time as a referendum is held to wipe away the second half of the official name.
She noted in the order that the word “plantation” has been an object of discussion for years and that “many of the State’s residents find it painful that a word so closely associated with slavery should appear in the official name of the state.”
As a result, the word will be stricken from websites, official notices and everything else controlled by the executive branch as soon as possible.
“I have heard from so many African-Americans in Rhode Island — actually, particularly in the past couple of weeks as I have really been amping up my efforts to listen, that it’s a painful thing to see,” the governor said at a news briefing Friday, according to WJAR-TV.
“Like, state employees. Every time they get their paycheck, they have to see the word, ‘Plantation,'” she said. “Every time you get a proclamation from the state for doing a good thing, you should feel proud about it, [but] you have to see the word, ‘Plantation.’ So, I think we ought to do the right thing — put it on the ballot. Ask the people of Rhode Island to do the right thing and change our name.”
Raimondo said it is up to the people to officially change the name for good via a referendum.
Democratic state Sen. Harold Metts has sponsored legislation to allow voters to do so. A bill he has introduced, approved unanimously in the state Senate last week, would put before voters an amendment to the state’s constitution to legally change the name of the state to simply the “State of Rhode Island.”
“The word ‘plantations’ conjures extremely painful images for many Rhode Islanders. Whatever the history of the term is in Rhode Island, it is an unnecessary and painful reminder of our nation’s racist past,” Metts, who is black, said in a statement on his website.
“‘Plantations’ brings to mind the inhuman and degrading treatment of the African-Americans, slave sales that tore families apart, rapes and lynchings. It is a hurtful term to so many of us.”
“Whatever the meaning of the term ‘plantations’ in the context of Rhode Island’s history, it carries a horrific connotation when considering the tragic and racist history of our nation,” Metts also said, according to the Providence Journal.
“Not unlike the debate over the Confederate flag, retaining the term does nothing to memorialize history but conjures an unnecessary and painful reminder of our racist past,” he added.
In 2010, Rhode Island voters were offered the chance to revise the state’s name, but rejected the proposed change 77.9 percent to 22.1 percent.
Providence Plantation is not synonymous with slavery. Guess actually educating people is too difficult in this day and age. Will we all get participation trophies for this mindless revision of history?
— Sean Stevens (@sean4philly) June 23, 2020
Makes no sense. Rhode Island was arguably the most progressive of the 13 original colonies. And the word “plantation” does not equal “slavery.” The meaning was “settlements.” Roger Williams, its founder, was one of the first abolitionists. https://t.co/TM42iLexbU https://t.co/CoVSc8vSN1
— Corie Whalen (@CorieWhalen) June 22, 2020
The “Providence” part of the state’s name has its roots in 1636, when minister Roger Williams, on the run from Massachusetts Bay Colony, where his brand of religion was found injurious to the general order, purchased land on Narragansett Bay from the Narragansett Indians to found a place where people of all faiths would be welcome.
Williams, who advocated strict separation of church and state on the grounds that delving into policy concerns would pollute the church, wrote that “having, of a sense of God’s merciful providence unto me in my distress, [I] called the place PROVIDENCE, I desired it might be for a shelter for persons distressed for conscience,” according to Smithsonian Magazine.
The vision Williams had of a colony where those of all faiths would be welcome first came alive in 1644, when, on March 14, Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Plantations gave Williams a charter that granted colonists there “full Powre & Authority to Governe & rule themselves … by such a form of Civil Government, as by voluntary consent of all, or the greater Part of them shall find most suteable” so long as its laws “be conformable to the Laws of England, so far as the Nature and Constitution of the place will admit.”
Professor emeritus J. Stanley Lemons of Rhode Island College said the meaning of plantation at the time was any settlement, not simply fields worked by slaves.
“Plymouth Plantation, or Ulster Plantation, or Roxbury Plantation, or Providence Plantation, has zero to do with slavery,” Lemons told WJAR-TV.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.