STATE HOUSE – Rhode Island voters will be asked in November whether to remove “and Providence Plantations” from the state’s official name, under legislation approved by the General Assembly today.
The joint resolution (2020-S 2902aa, 2020-H 8077) putting the question on the ballot is sponsored by Sen. Harold M. Metts and Rep. Anastasia P. Williams, who said it’s neither necessary nor any longer acceptable for the state to cling to an outdated reference that conjures an image of a time and place when slavery was widely encouraged, condoned and accepted.
“The images that come to mind when I hear the word ‘plantations’ are the inhuman and degrading treatment of the African-Americans who came before me, families ripped apart by slave sales, rapes, castrations and lynchings. It is a hurtful term to so many of us. Not unlike the debate over the Confederate flag, retaining the term does nothing to memorialize history but conjures an unnecessary and painful reminder of our racist past, and the injustice and racism that persists to this day,” said Senator Metts (D-Dist. 6, Providence), whose own family can be traced back to the Speck Plantation near Charlottesville, VA. “Rhode Island built its economy on being a leader in the slave trade in colonial times. This old, festering wound still needs healing. We aren’t proud of that history, and we must stop glorifying a word that is inescapably associated with that terrible past.”
While a similar question failed at the ballot in 2010, the sponsors say they believe the public is much more educated and sensitive about the hurtful connotation of the word now.
“When you have more than 10,000 Rhode Islanders showing up in a pandemic for a march calling for an end to police brutality and to affirm that Black Lives Matter, we can take this ugly, painful word out of the name of our beautiful state,” said Representative Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence). “We have genuine work ahead of us to bring about true equality and justice for all. We are collectively taking this step as an inclusive symbol to demonstrate that we are all Rhode Islanders. Period.”
Both the General Assembly and the governor announced last month that they would remove the phrase from official legislative and executive-branch documents in recognition of its painful connotation.
The ballot question would make the change official in the state’s constitution if approved by a simple majority of voters statewide in November’s election.
The House bill is cosponsored by Rep. Joseph S. Almeida (D-Dist. 12, Providence), Rep. Joseph J. Solomon Jr. (D-Dis. 22, Warwick), Rep. Karen Alzate (D-Dist. 60, Pawtucket) and Rep. Raymond A. Hull (D-Dist. 6, Providence, North Providence).
The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Senators Sandra Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket), Ana B. Quezada (D-Dist 2, Providence), President of the Senate Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence) and Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence).