Rhode Island is the nation’s smallest state and has the longest official name, but that may soon change due to the full name’s connotations of racism and slavery.
The state’s official name, “The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,” has typically appeared on the governor’s executive orders, citations and website. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) on Monday signed an executive order to remove the words “Providence Plantations” from those places.
“Rhode Island was founded on the principles of acceptance and tolerance, and our state’s name – and actions – should reflect those values,” Raimondo said in a statement.
The name change currently only affects Raimondo’s office, but Rhode Island’s Senate passed a measure last week that calls for a statewide vote on changing the name entirely in November. Residents overwhelmingly voted against removing “Providence Plantations” from the state’s name in 2010.
The name goes back to the Providence Plantations settlement established by the religious liberty pioneer Roger Williams in 1636. The word “plantation” can refer to a settlement in a new region or large group of plants. However, it’s more widely known to refer to an agricultural estate with resident labor, particularly enslaved people prior to the abolition of slavery in the U.S. in the 1860s.
Raimondo said she has heard from some people who oppose the name change and argue that it’s part of history. But she called the name “demoralizing,” “painful” and “a slap in the face” for the state’s Black residents.
“We have to acknowledge our history, it’s true, but we can acknowledge our history without elevating a phrase that’s so deeply associated with the ugliest time in our state and in our country’s history,” she said Monday at a news conference. “That is a word that is associated with the ugliest institution that our country has ever had.”
Renewed efforts to amend the name have come after the recent death of George Floyd and the subsequent nationwide anti-racism protests.