PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Senators 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.
The resolution, sponsored by Sen. Harold Metts, comes as anti-racism protests in the wake of the George Floyd killing have revived debate locally on whether the back half of the Ocean State’s legal name — State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations — 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.
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.
“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.”
“Making this change would pay some respect to our ancestors who were forced into slavery, and would stop serving as a constant reminder to present-day Rhode Islanders of our painful past,” he continued.
Gov. Gina Raimondo has already publicly said she supports 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 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.
Ted Nesi contributed to this report.