Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo issued an executive order removing the word “plantation,” a loaded term associated with slavery, from official state documents and symbols.
The state seal, found on government buildings and state letterhead, includes an anchor, the word “hope” and the phrase “the state of Rhode Island and the Providence plantations.”
“We cannot ignore the image conjured up by the word ‘plantations’,” Raimondo told reporters Monday in announcing the order. “We cannot ignore how painful it is for Black Rhode Islanders to see that and have to see it as part of their state’s name.”
Rhode Island, one of the 13 original colonies in the United States, has its roots in Providence Plantations, a settlement established by Roger Williams.
In its narrowest definition, the word refers to a “group of plants and especially trees under cultivation” or “a settlement in a new country or region,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
But the more widely recognized secondary interpretation of “plantation,” as “an agricultural farm generally operated by resident labor,” has more troubling connotations.
In recent examples of using the word as a noun, Merriam-Webster cited stories on Tuesday about Nancy Green, a woman who was born into slavery and later became the face of Aunt Jemima’s syrup, and the movie “Lo that the wind blew away. ” , “set in a Georgia plantation before and during the Civil War.
Raimondo is a Democrat, and Rhode Island Republican Party President Sue Cienki said the governor must go to voters to change the formal name and seal of the state.
“I certainly understand his sentiment for wanting to change it, but I disagree with the way he did it by executive order,” Cienki told NBC affiliate WJAR in Providence.
In 2010, state voters completely rejected Question 1, which asked whether the official name, “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,” should be changed to simply “Rhode Island.”
A Raimondo representative agreed Tuesday that he would take electoral steps to remove the “plantation” from formal state titles.
But Raimondo spokeswoman Audrey Lucas told NBC News that the governor is in his power to strip the word of “government orders and appointments, executive agency agencies websites, official correspondence, and pay stubs from state employees.” .
State Treasurer Seth Magaziner announced Monday that his office “will remove the words ‘and Providence Plantations’ from state checks” and “from our letterhead, quotes” and other correspondence.
And in a joint statement by Rhode Island’s top legislators, Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio and House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, both Democrats, said: “We both support putting the ballot in November this decision to remove the word ‘and Providence Plantations’ from the state name. In the meantime, we know this is an important issue for many people, so the General Assembly will remove the reference to ‘Plantations’ from the Assembly documents. “
In 1652, Rhode Island became the first colony to officially end slavery, although it was not aggressively enforced until abolition was written into the state constitution almost two centuries later.