Rhode Island is moving toward changing its official name, “The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” due to its slavery connotations.
The state’s governor, Gina Raimondo, signed an executive order on Monday to shorten the name to its colloquial title “Rhode Island” on government documents, CBS News reported. The state’s legislature is also putting forward a bill to alter the name entirely for a referendum, after the state’s only black senator, Harold Metts, introduced the bill.
Rhode Island did abolish slavery in 1652, more than 200 years before America did and a 100 years before our independence. It was the first state to do so, but the law of 1652 was never enforced because Newport was the major slave-trading port in North America.
By 1750 Rhode Island had the highest percentage of enslaved people in New England. Ten percent of Rhode Islanders lived in bondage, which was twice the northern average.Christy Clark-Pujara, author of Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island and professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
No surprise ladies and gentlemen that I “was” today years old when I realized “Rhode Island” isn’t the whole name of the state. Who really knew? Not me and I’m sure most didn’t have a clue either.
This name change was on the ballot when I was at school there in 2010. Rhode Islanders, unsurprisingly, voted by almost 78% to keep “Plantations” in the state’s name. Rhode Island is 84% white according to census data. During that time there were arguments against changing the name including “it was just referring to land” and “why should taxpayers have to pay for all that new letterhead?”
On a side note and totally unrelated, one of my favorite facts about Rhode Island is that it accidentally legalized prostitution in 1980, made this widely known via a court decision in 2003, didn’t criminalize it again till 2009, and reaped public health benefits in the interim.