Rhode Island, formally known as the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, will place the second half of its official name on state documents and websites following an executive order signed by Gov. Gina Raimondo.
“We have to recognize our history, that’s true, but we can recognize our history without raising a phrase so deeply associated with the ugliest moment in our state and in the history of our country,” said Ms. Raimondo, a Democrat. . Monday conference announcing the order.
Rhode Island, one of the original 13 colonies, traces its history to Providence Plantations, founded by Roger Williams in 1636. Although it was the first colony to abolish slavery, in 1652, historians argue that there is little evidence that the law ever existed. imposed before slavery was abolished across the country.
Although the word plantation may refer to a settlement or a large group of cultivated plants or trees, the governor and others who support the change say that the connotations of slavery were inevitable.
The removal of the reference by the state comes at a time of protests across the country over systemic racism following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
“We cannot ignore the image conjured by the word plantation,” said Raimondo. “We can’t ignore how painful it is for Rhode Island blacks to see that and have to see it as part of their state’s name. It is demoralizing. It’s a slap in the face. It is painful.”
Under the executive order, the phrase “and Providence plantations” will be removed from communications, orders, and appointments of the governor’s office administration, executive branch agency websites, official correspondence, and receipts from state employee salary.
Last week Mayor Jorge Elorza of Providence, a Democrat, signed an executive order to remove the word “plantation” from all official city documents and ceremonies.
Seth Magaziner, the state treasurer, also vowed to remove “and Providence plantations” from state checks, as well as office letterhead, appointments and other office correspondence.
The state’s official name will remain unchanged for now, but voters may be presented with the option in November.
State Senator Harold M. Metts and State Representative Anastasia P. Williams introduced legislation in both houses that would put the name change referendum on the ballot.
Mr. Metts and Ms. Williams, both Democrats, also announced in a joint statement that the General Assembly would remove “and Providence Plantations” from their official documents, with immediate effect.
“The word ‘plantations’ conjures up extremely painful images for many Rhode Islanders,” Metts said in a statement. “Whatever the history of the term in Rhode Island is, it is an unnecessary and painful reminder of our nation’s racist past.”
“‘Plantaciones’ recalls the inhuman and degrading treatment of African-Americans, the sales of slaves that destroyed families, rapes and lynchings,” he continued. “It is a hurtful term for many of us.”
This is not the first time that the official name of Rhode Island has come under scrutiny. In 2010, a question appeared on the ballot about replacing “Rhode Island and Providence State Plantations” with simply “Rhode Island,” but was rejected by 78 percent of voters.
State Senator Elaine J. Morgan, a Republican, said she supported putting the name change referendum on the November ballot, but questioned the costs of replacing paper and already printed checks.
“We are facing a historical deficit,” Morgan said in a statement. “I would like to see a tax note that explains how much it costs Rhode Island taxpayers to make this change right away.”
“Why are we throwing away all these resources when we can simply replace it with the name change once supply runs out and we reorder?” she said.
The governor also announced an implicit bias training requirement for state employees and initiatives to make police officers more accountable, including body cameras for the state police. He called these actions the first steps toward racial equity.
“People say, ‘I’m proud of our name,’ and I say, ‘Well, you can be proud of Rhode Island, but don’t be proud of that,'” said Raimondo. “Don’t be proud of the word that represents the worst of what our nation has to offer. Be proud of the best in Rhode Island. “