CHANGE THE OFFICIAL NAME OF RHODE ISLAND

CHANGE THE OFFICIAL NAME OF RHODE ISLAND

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Our state’s official name is The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Some Rhode Islanders pride themselves on living in the “smallest state with the longest name”. But, the history of how we got this name is often forgotten.

The addition of “and Providence Plantations” happened in 1644 after the colonial merger of Providence, Portsmouth, Newport, and Warwick. Roger Williams had intended “Plantation” to mean colony or settlement, but the modern connotation of that word has changed. If you ask anyone what’s the first word that comes to your mind when you head plantation? They’ll likely say slavery, and to every African American it holds a painful memory and represents the very real systematic racism in our government.

Slavery was abolished in 1652 - reduced to a 10 year “indentured servant” that was not enforced for almost 200 years. Newport and surrounding areas became a slave trading hub and leader in the Trans-Atlantic Triangle. In 1696, slaves were still being sold in auction houses in Newport. In 1755, they accounted for almost 1/4 of Newport’s population. By the 1770’s, Rhode Island had the highest slave population per capita in all of new england. Rhode Islanders hold ALL 10 SPOTS on the top 10 list of largest U.S. slave traders by number of voyages and slaves disembarked.  Roughly 100,000 slaves were transported on Rhode Island ships. 

We weren’t taught any of this in school. That’s erasing history more than a name change. “And Providence Plantations” holds the memory of an economic foundation built on slavery, and only keeps us connected to a shameful past. It’s just like movements across the country to take down statues of slave owners - but it’s only three words. 

I am asking to eliminate the last half of our official name, changing our name to “The State of Rhode Island”. It’s been in the conversation for decades and now is the time for action.