PROVIDENCE, R.I. — On November 3, Rhode Islanders voted to change the official state name from the ‘State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations’ to just the ‘State of Rhode Island.’
The statewide ballot proposition was approved by the Rhode Island electorate with 53% voting to approve the change and 47% voting to reject it. Earlier this year Governor Gina Raimondo signed an executive order which declared that she would be using ‘State of Rhode Island’ on executive orders, citations and other executive agency postings.
Following her executive order in June, Governor Raimondo stated, “Our work to dismantle systemic racism in Rhode Island did not start today and it will not end today, but we can rise together and make meaningful progress toward racial equity now. Rhode Island was founded on the principles of acceptance and tolerance, and our state's name – and actions – should reflect those values.” Governor Raimondo also asserted that the word ‘plantations’ was associated with ‘the ugliest institution’ in United States history.
State Representative Anastasia Williams spearheaded a nonprofit organization called the Rhode Island Foundation that is dedicated to advocating for the state’s name change. Representative Williams told The Public’s Radio, “When you say the word plantation, for many it brings you to a dark place. You say plantation, I automatically see someone being lynched. I automatically see someone working in the field.” Representative Williams said that she is proud of Rhode Islanders saying, “The work has just begun, and it certainly is in a good direction. I feel good. I’m proud of the people of the State of Rhode Island.”
Those who oppose the name change claim that the ‘plantations’ did not reference slavery and instead referred to the land Roger Williams settled on when he first came to Rhode Island. Rhode Island historian, Patrick Conley, said, “My opposition is purely historical. The word ‘Providence” is for God’s divine providence in giving Roger Williams a place to establish the American principle of religious liberty and church-state separation. You want to wipe that away?”
Rhode Island does have a prominent history of slavery. Although slavery was banned in the state in 1652, according to the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University it was not enforced. The library also asserts that Rhode Island had more enslaved people per capita than any other New England state.
This is not the first time the state has attempted to change its name. In 2010 a similar ballot measure was rejected, with 78% of voters opposing the change.