PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ With the debate over whether to remove “Providence Plantations” from Rhode Island’s official name renewed, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza has opted to drop the word “plantations” from all city documents.
Elorza signed an executive order Friday striking the word from the “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,” which he said is important for the past, present and future of the Ocean State.
“I firmly believe that in order to truly say we are an inclusive and kind city, we must commit to an active, anti-racist stance at every level in our city,” Elorza said. “Though this does not correct generations of pain and violence against our Black and Indigenous residents, this Juneteenth we can take this step to build a better, brighter future together. I want to thank the community members that led this work and that continue to raise their voices in our city and across the country, demanding change.”
The decision comes on the same day the nation marks the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, which commemorates the abolition of slavery.
Watch: Providence City Council Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris expresses what the removal of the phrase means to her following Elorza’s announcement (story continues below)
The Rhode Island Senate unanimously approved a resolution Thursday evening that would hold a ballot referendum this fall on removing “and Providence Plantations” from the state’s name.
The resolution, introduced by Sen. Harold Metts, said the state’s legal name is racially insensitive due to the association of the word “plantation” with Southern slavery, as well as Rhode Island’s deep involvement in the slave trade.
“A decade has passed since the public was asked this question. Attitudes may have changed substantially, even in the past few years — and even in the past few weeks,” Metts said. “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.”
The resolution’s companion legislation, sponsored by Rep. Anastasia Williams, is expected to be voted on when the House reconvenes in July. If passed, the question would go on the November ballot for voters to decide.
Rhode Island voters overwhelmingly rejected the name change in a referendum more than a decade ago, voting 78% to 22% to keep the “Providence Plantations” phrase. Opponents of the measure made the case that the word “plantations” was a reference to local farms in the 1600s, regardless of its modern connotation.
“This is our opportunity to listen, to learn, to be an ally to our black community and to right some wrongs,” Elorza added.
Gov. Gina Raimondo has already publicly shown her support for putting the matter on the ballot once again.
“I have heard from so many African Americans in Rhode Island — actually particularly in the last couple weeks, as I’ve been really amping up my efforts to listen — that it’s a painful thing to see,” she said.
The Providence City Council has also expressed support for eliminating the second half of the state’s legal name, approving a resolution Thursday night calling for its removal.
“The reference to the ‘Providence Plantations’ in our State’s name, while not a direct reference to slavery, serves as a hurtful reminder of the early years of our state in which slavery played a pivotal role in forming the foundation of Rhode Island’s economy and has caused much harm,” Council President Sabina Matos said. “As a black woman and as an immigrant, I am so proud to of our city in this moment.”