Rhode Islanders vote to change the state's name on Tuesday. Some say it's racist.
via Taber Andrew Bain / Flickr

The tiniest state with the longest name may soon just be the tiniest state after November 3. Rhode Island is voting on whether to change its official name from "The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" to "The State of Rhode Island."

Lawmakers in the state would like to shorten the name because the term "plantations" has a historical connection to slavery in the United States.

This isn't the first time the state has attempted to remove "plantations" from its name. Rhode Island attempted the change ten years ago and 78% of voters opposed the idea.


A "Yes" vote supports amending the Rhode Island Constitution to remove "Providence Plantations" from the official state name in the Preamble, Article III (Oath of Officers), and Article IX (Commissions).

"I've never had anyone ask me where I'm from and I say, 'The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,'" Bill Lynch, the chairman of Rhode Island United, told WPRI. "We've seen in other parts of the country some really bad things happen to show that we may have made progress, but not enough on race relations, generally speaking."

The move comes in the wake of an executive order from Governor Gina Raimondo in June to remove "plantations" from government documents.

"Many of the State's residents find it painful that a word so closely associated with slavery should appear in the official name of the State," Raimondo said.

"The pain that this association causes to some of our residents should be of concern to all Rhode Islanders and we should do everything in our power to ensure that all communities can take pride in our State," she continued.

Opponents of the bill claim the term "plantation" had no connection to slavery when Roger Williams settled Providence in 1636.

In fact, Williams was an abolitionist theologian and it's believed included "Providence Plantations" to refer to a new settlement, not an estate cultivated by slaves.

via Jimmy Emerson / Flickr

However, Rhode Island does have an ugly past when it comes to slavery. In the mid-18h century, it was a vital part of the slave trade and had a higher slave population than any other Northern colony.

Even though it was the smallest state in the colonies, the vast majority of slave ships came from Rhode Island ports.

Slavery began on small farms which then grew to Plantation-like size. "Eventually, these farms grew to be plantations comparable to those in America's southern colonies," wrote Salve Regina University adjunct professor Fred Zilian, "and with these plantations, a class of Narragansett planters emerged."

Slavery was phased out in the state after the passing of the Gradual Emancipation Act of March 1, 1784.

Although it appears as though the original intent of the state's name had nothing to do with slavery, it's hard to separate the historical meaning of the world with how it's interpreted in 2020. Especially at a time when Americans are taking a deep look at its racist history.

"This isn't going to solve the race relations problem in the country, but it sends a message in Rhode Island that we care," Lynch said.

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