Rhode Island’s official full name is State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

The word “Plantations” in Rhode Island history giving rise to the name has nothing to do with slave ownership or slave plantations. Rather, at the time Rhode Island was founded, the term plantation simply signified an early settlement:

Historians say that in the 17th century, the word referred to colonies or settlements with agricultural economies and had nothing to do with slavery.

Similar terminology is used for the “Plimoth Plantation” in Massachusetts.

Yet, as we covered back in 2009, because “plantations” was used in the pre-Civil War south to signify slave plantations, there has been an effort to remove “plantations” from the official Rhode Island name, Is Rhode Island’s Name Racist?

My home state of Rhode Island is a quirky place. We still celebrate Victory Over Japan Day in August, although the name was changed to VJ Day and then to Victory Day, in a nod to political correctness. Now there is a move afoot to change the name of the state for similar reasons.

The official name of Rhode Island is “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.” Voters will have a chance in 2010 to remove the reference to “Providence Plantations” as part of a referendum pushed by advocates who argue that the reference to “plantations” is insensitive to blacks and perpetuates a racist image.

The use of the word “plantations” had nothing to do with, and predated, slavery in Rhode Island. Rather, “Rhode Island” signified the islands in Narraganset Bay and the “Plantations” were the mainland settlements:

Providence Plantations was the name of the colony founded by Roger Williams in the area now known as the City of Providence. Rhode Island was the area now known as Aquidneck Island, which now comprises the city of Newport and the towns of Middletown and Portsmouth, the largest of several islands in Narragansett Bay.

The 2010 referendum to change the state name failed by a wide margin, 78-22, Rhode Island Still Has Its Plantations.

But now the effort is back:

 The lone Black man in the Rhode Island Senate has renewed the push to remove “Providence Plantations” from Rhode Island’s official name, and he has the Senate leadership’s backing.

Sen. Harold Metts, a Providence Democrat, introduced legislation on Wednesday to give voters another chance to change the state Constitution to eliminate a word from the state name that many Black Rhode Islanders find offensive.

“Whatever the meaning of the term ‘plantations’ in the context of Rhode Island’s history, it carries a horrific connotation when considering the tragic and racist history of our nation,” said Metts, in a statement on Wednesday night.

“The images that come to mind when I hear the word ‘plantations’ are of the inhuman and degrading treatment of the African-Americans who came before me, families ripped apart by slave sales, rapes and lynchings. It is a hurtful term to so many of us.”

He added: “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.”

Governor Gina Raimondo is not waiting around for the voters to decide (I predict it will fail again), she just issued an Executive Order requiring all states agencies and offices to drop “Providence Pantations”:

Rhode Island, known formally as the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, will drop the latter half of its official name on state documents and websites following an executive order signed by Gov. Gina Raimondo.

“We have to acknowledge our history, that’s true, but we can acknowledge our history without elevating a phrase that’s so deeply associated with the ugliest time in our state and in our country’s history,” Ms. Raimondo, a Democrat, said at a news conference Monday announcing the order.

This is not the first time “connotations” has resulted in a non-racist word being banned, but now we are in a full blown cultural purge, and even the official name of a state may fall along with statues.

 

 
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