Rhode Island Moves to Change Official State Name Due to Slavery Link

Front view of the Rhode Island state capitol building and lawn on Capitol Hill in Providence (Getty Images)

The state of Rhode Island is moving to eliminate the second half of its official name, “The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” in response to activists’ claims that it serves as a painful reminder of slavery.

Governor Gina Raimondo signed an executive order on Monday calling for the governor’s office and agencies under the direction of the governor to halt the use of the second part of the official name, “and Providence Plantations,” as soon as possible. The name will read as just “Rhode Island” on government documents. The state seal may also be altered to eliminate the phrase.

“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,” Raimondo wrote in the order. “The pain that this association causes to some of our residents should be of concern to all Rhode Islanders and we should do everything in our power to ensure that all communities can take pride in our State.”

“I urge the voters to approve the name change in November but will take all measures now that are within my control to eliminate the name from my official communications and those of my executive agencies,” Raimondo said in the order.

The push to change Rhode Island’s official name has received fresh attention amid protests across the nation against racism and police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis last month.

The state Senate’s only black member, Harold Metts, introduced legislation last week calling for a statewide vote on removing “Providence Plantations” from the state’s official name. The Rhode Island senate passed the resolution. The permanent name change would require voters to approve altering the Rhode Island Constitution in November.

“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 told the Providence Journal.

“The images that come to mind when I hear the word ‘plantations’ are of the inhuman and degrading treatment of the African-Americans who came before me, families ripped apart by slave sales, rapes and lynchings. It is a hurtful term to so many of us,” continued Metts, who traces his ancestry back to Speck Plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia.

The Providence Democrat compared the phrase’s presence in the state’s official name to the Confederate flag, saying that keeping “plantation” in the name does not memorialize history but “conjures an unnecessary and painful reminder of our racist past.”

A petition in favor of the name change has garnered more than 7,500 signatures.

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