PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — This November, Rhode Island voters will have to consider the question: what’s in a name?
There will be one statewide question on the ballot which seeks to remove “and Providence Plantations” from the state’s official title.
Supporters of the change like Bill Lynch, the chairman of Rhode Island United (also known as the Vote Yes on 1 campaign), say removing the racially insensitive word is long overdue.
Lynch, the former head of the R.I. Democratic Party, and other current legislators have been vocal about the proposed change in recent months.
“I’ve never had anyone ask me where I’m from and I say, ‘the state of Rhode island and Providence Plantations,'” Lynch said. “We’ve seen in other parts of the country some really bad things happen to show that we may have made progress, but not enough on race relations, generally speaking.”
It’s that reality which Lynch says brought him to become one of the group’s founders, in hopes of keeping the issue on voters’ radar. Using an initial $75,000 grant from the Rhode Island Foundation, the group plans to produce ads that will run on social media to push for the name change.
“This isn’t going to solve the race relations problem in the country, but it sends a message in Rhode Island that we care,” Lynch added.
This was the second time the General Assembly voted to put the question on the ballot in 10 years.
In 2010, voters overwhelmingly rejected the name change (voting 78% against the measure and 22% in favor) but Lynch said he believes Rhode Islanders will have a change of heart this year.
“I think people this time are saying, ‘you know, this isn’t really an issue that was a big priority for me, but now I understand why it matters to other people, my neighbor or my coworker,'” Lynch said.
Opponents say the word “plantation” had no association with slavery when Roger Williams settled Providence in 1636.
“I would think that if Roger Williams was here today, he would be standing on our side, saying this is not appropriate,” Lynch added.