Rhode Island Moves to Change Official State Name Due to Connotations of Slavery

The state of Rhode Island is moving to change its official name – “The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” – due to its connection to slavery. Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo signed an executive order Monday to change what appears in government documents, and the state legislature is moving forward with a bill to completely alter the name.

“Many of the state’s residents find it painful that a word so closely associated with slavery appears in the state’s official name,” Raimondo wrote. “The pain this association causes some of our residents should be a matter of concern to all Rhode Islanders and we must do everything in our power to ensure that all communities can take pride in our state.”

The order will shorten the name to “Rhode Island” in official communications from the governor’s office, including executive orders and appointments, and will also change the state’s website. It will also remove the word “plantations” from all state agency websites and official, effective correspondence “as soon as possible.”

Governor Gina Raimondo addresses the protesters, praying with them and saying that she will listen to them and work with them, after they called her out and listened to their demands during a gathering of Black Lives Matter on the steps of the State House in Providence, Rhode Island on June 5, 2020.

Joseph Prezioso / AFP via Getty Images

“Rhode Island was founded on the principles of acceptance and tolerance, and our state’s name and actions must reflect those values,” Raimondo tweeted Monday.

More than 7,300 people have signed a petition supporting the name change.

The Rhode Island Senate unanimously called for a state vote on the name change last week after the bill was introduced in part by the state’s only black senator, Harold Metts. The state legislature said it will move forward with the referendum.

“Whatever the history of the term in Rhode Island is, it is an unnecessary and painful reminder of our nation’s racist past,” said Metts, who traces his lineage from his mother’s side to Speck Plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia, in a statement. . “It is a hurtful term for many of us.”

Voters will have to choose to amend the Rhode Island Constitution in November before the state’s official name can be permanently changed.

This is not the first time that the state has tried to change its name: when the state tried in 2010, 78% of voters opposed the removal of “Providence Plantations”. But Metts said he has renewed hope.

“It has been a decade since this question was asked to the public. Attitudes may have changed substantially, even in recent years, and even in recent weeks,” Metts said in a statement. “Whatever the meaning of the term ‘plantations’ means in the context of Rhode Island history, it has a horrible connotation when you consider our nation’s tragic and racist history.”