Besides being on record as the smallest state in size in the United States, Rhode Island, up until the 2020 US election, was also known for having the longest official name – The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
On Tuesday, however, a majority of Rhode Islanders voted in favor of the removal of the phrase “and Providence Plantations” from the state’s official name in a state referendum, according to the Associated Press. This followed years of calls for its removal from local activists who argued “Plantations” bore slavery connotations.
Though “Plantations” in the state’s name isn’t in direct reference to a location where enslaved African Americans were forced to work, advocates, nonetheless, were still adamant it is discriminatory and offensive, particularly when the state played a very active role in the transatlantic slave trade.
During that era, merchants from the state embarked on over 1,000 voyages to the shores of Africa to purchase slaves and transport them back to the Americas, the Associated Press reported.
An initial referendum to remove the name was overwhelmingly rejected in 2010, but earlier this year, the state’s only Black senator, Harold Metts, introduced another referendum following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the nationwide demonstrations that ensued, according to New York Post. Metts argued the word “plantation” and its ties to slavery were “a hurtful term to so many of us”.
Leading up to this year’s election, Governor Gina Raimondo signed an executive order in June removing “Providence Plantations” from all correspondence from her office. The executive order also covered its removal from executive agency websites 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 at the time of the announcement, WPRI.com reported.
“Rhode Island was founded on the principles of acceptance and tolerance, and our state’s name, and actions, should reflect those values,” she added. “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.”
Following the referendum, state officials announced they will assess all state property with the phrase “Providence Plantations” on its structures – including the grand marble façade at the State House – and make arrangements to remove them.