PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — House lawmakers passed a resolution Tuesday that would allow for a ballot referendum on removing the words “and Providence Plantations” from the Rhode Island’s official state name.
The House Judiciary Committee voted to send the measure to the House floor for consideration. The resolution, brought forth by Rep. Anastasia Williams, would give voters a chance to decide whether the state’s legal name should be changed.
“We are looking to become a state of unification, of justice for all, and that is a word that needs to be removed because it represents dark times,” Williams said.
The Senate unanimously passed a companion bill last month.
The state’s official name, “The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,” was established when it declared statehood in 1790. Bur ever since the death of George Floyd, there’s been a growing movement to drop the phrase “Providence Plantations” from the name.
“The word plantations is a violent and triggering name that reminds us of a very racist history,” Claudia Traub said.
Traub is part of the group “Remove Plantations from RI” which is made up of about 2,000 members.
“In order for that systematic change to happen, we have to take the first step in taking out the things we see and hear that are very specific reminders of a very violent and racist past,” she added.
Last month, Gov. Gina Raimondo signed an executive order removing the phrase from official state documents and correspondence.
“We can’t ignore the image conjured by the word plantation,” Raimondo said. “We can’t ignore how painful that is from Black Rhode Islanders to see that as a part of their state’s name.”
This is not the first time the state has been put in this position.
Rhode Island voters overwhelmingly rejected the name change in a referendum a decade ago, voting 78% to 22% to keep the “Providence Plantations” phrase. Opponents made the case that the word “plantations” was a reference to local farms in the 1600s, regardless of its modern connotation.
“The fear is come November, this kind of moving ahead, this kind of vigor, will kind of subside,” Traub said.
The deadline for the state to receive ballot questions is Aug. 5 to give the elections division enough time to lay out and proof the ballots.
The resolution is expected to head to the House floor next week.