PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo signed an executive order Monday afternoon to remove the phrase “Providence Plantations” from all gubernatorial orders and citations, executive agency websites, official correspondence and state employee pay stubs.
“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,” Raimondo said.
The state’s official name, “The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,” was established when it declared statehood in 1790. There’s been a renewed push by lawmakers and activists to remove the phrase from the state’s legal name, which they argue evokes the legacy of slavery.
“Rhode Island was founded on the principles of acceptance and tolerance, and our state’s name, and actions, should reflect those values,” Raimondo said. “The steps I am announcing today are just the beginning, and I am fully committed to continuing to work alongside the community in stamping out individual and institutional racism in our state.”
Changing the state’s full name, however, would require a constitutional amendment. Raimondo said she’s supportive of lawmakers’ efforts to ensure a referendum goes before voters in November.
In addition, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner announced Monday that his office will remove the phrase from the state’s checks, from their letterhead, citations and other office correspondence.
Magaziner said he recognizes the word “plantations” was not necessarily connected with slavery at the time, but words and symbols can take on new meanings.
“Removing the word ‘Plantations’ does not erase our history; a history that includes many Rhode Islanders who profited from slavery, and also the heroic sacrifice of many Rhode Islanders who fought to end it,” he said. “Removing the word ‘Plantations’ is not enough to correct the systemic injustices that hold back too many people of color in our State. Much more work remains to be done.”
Magaziner said he hopes the change will send a message to all people, regardless of race or background, that Rhode Island strives to be a safe and welcoming place for all.
Raimondo’s decision comes days after Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza signed an executive order to drop the word “plantations” from all city documents, which he said is important for the state’s past, present and future.
Last week, the Rhode Island Senate unanimously passed a resolution that would allow for a ballot referendum on removing the words “and Providence Plantations” from Rhode Island’s official state name.
Sen. Harold Metts, who spearheaded the resolution, applauded Raimondo’s executive order. He said the General Assembly will also be removing the phrase from all of its documents.
“The word ‘plantations’ conjures extremely painful images for many Rhode Islanders,” Metts said. “Whatever the history of the term is in Rhode Island, it is an unnecessary and painful reminder of our nation’s racist past. ‘Plantations’ brings to mind the inhuman and degrading treatment of the African-Americans, slave sales that tore families apart, rapes and lynchings. It is a hurtful term to so many of us.”
In a joint statement, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said they both support a ballot referendum.
“In the meantime, we know this is an important issue to a lot of people, so the General Assembly will be removing the reference to ‘Plantations’ from Assembly documents,” the lawmakers said.
The House will take up its companion bill, introduced by Rep. Anastasia Williams, when lawmakers reconvene in July.
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 of the measure made the case that the word “plantations” was a reference to local farms in the 1600s, regardless of its modern connotation.
Raimondo unveiled her “RIse Together” vision, which calls for a more “equitable and resilient Rhode Island.” She said it’s the first step in a series of actions to fight racial inequities statewide.
As part of the “RIse Together” vision, Raimondo said she has:
- Directed the Department of Administration to institute mandatory implicit bias training for all Executive Branch employees.
- Directed the Department of Administration to build a plan for more comprehensive equity training.
- Directed the Rhode Island State Police to form a Community Outreach Team that will be tasked with working with community leaders to find ways for departments to better engage the Rhode Islanders they serve.
- Directed Rhode Island State Police Colonel James Manni to develop a plan and explore grants and other funding sources to equip all State Police officers with body cameras, building on the existing efforts within the State Police to increase accountability.
The Department of Administration is also currently undergoing a thorough study of all state contracting practices to ensure that minority-owned businesses have an equal shot at procurement opportunities – the first of its kind in 25 years.
Sens. Sandra Cano and Ana Quezada applauded Raimondo’s vision, especially the inclusion of cultural competency training for all state employees.
“Rhode Island is a richly diverse place, and our government should represent, support and include Rhode Islanders of every race, ethnicity and background,” Cano said. “I look forward to being part of the solution to achieve equity for minority business enterprises so they have a fair opportunity to participate in the procurement process.”
“We’re glad there’s agreement about the importance of all Rhode Islanders being able to feel understood and valued every time they interact with state offices,” Quezada added.