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Raimondo will remove ‘Providence Plantations’ from official state name on documents, websites

State legislature and treasurer also removing words from documents; Voters may decide on official name change in November

The seal of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in the State House.
The seal of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in the State House.Rhode Island Secretary of State's Office

PROVIDENCE — Governor Gina M. Raimondo on Monday signed an executive order to remove “Providence Plantations” from the full state name in official documents, on agency websites, and on state employee pay stubs.

Also, the state legislature and the state treasurer announced that they will be removing those words from official documents because they conjure up images of slavery.

The action comes three days after Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza issued an executive order removing “Providence Plantations” from the state name on all city documents. And it comes as the state Senate has passed a resolution to ask voters if the state should remove those words from the official state name: Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

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The rapid series of announcements follows protests in Rhode Island and across the nation demanding action to address racism, inequality, and police brutality following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

And they represent just the latest sign of a national reckoning with symbols of racial injustice — including the toppling of Confederate statues in the South and Sunday’s announcement that the American Museum of Natural History in New York City will remove a statue that shows President Theodore Roosevelt on a horse, flanked by Native American and African men on foot.

“Our work to dismantle systemic racism in Rhode Island did not start today and it will not end today, but we can rise together and make meaningful progress toward racial equity now,” Raimondo said in a statement. “Rhode Island was founded on the principles of acceptance and tolerance, and our state’s name — and actions — should reflect those values.”

The smallest state has the longest official name: Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

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Black leaders say the word “plantations” conjures up images of slavery and serves as a reminder of Rhode Island’s outsized role in the slave trade. Historians say that in the 17th century, the word referred to colonies or settlements with agricultural economies and had nothing to do with slavery.

In 2010, voters resoundingly rejected a ballot question to change the name to simply “Rhode Island,” with 78 percent voting against the idea and only 22 percent in favor. But advocates say the time might be right to finally change the name.

Senator Harold M. Metts and Representative Anastasia Williams, both Black Providence Democrats, are sponsoring legislation to put the name change, which requires a state constitutional amendment, on the November ballot. And on Monday they announced that the General Assembly will remove “Providence Plantations” from legislative documents.

“The word ‘plantations’ conjures extremely painful images for many Rhode Islanders,” said Metts, who traces his lineage to an enslaved woman on a Virginia plantation. “Whatever the history of the term is in Rhode Island, it is an unnecessary and painful reminder of our nation’s racist past.”

In a joint statement, Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio and House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello said they support placing the state name change on the November ballot. “In the meantime, we know this is an important issue to a lot of people, so the General Assembly will be removing the reference to ‘Plantations’ from Assembly documents,” they said.

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Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner announced that his office will remove “Providence Plantations” from the state’s checks and from his office’s letterhead and citations.

He said he knows the word “plantations” was not connected with slavery in 1663 when “The Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” received its charter.

“However, words and symbols can take on new meanings over time,” Magaziner said. “As a Rhode Islander with Jewish heritage, I know all too well that the swastika, originally a symbol of spirituality and peace, became a symbol of profound hatred and evil.”

And for Blacks and other people of color, “plantations” has become synonymous with race-based slavery and violence, he said.

On Monday afternoon, Raimondo joined advocates, community leaders, elected officials, and members of her cabinet at Billy Taylor Park in Providence to unveil her “RIse Together” vision for achieving “a more equitable and resilient Rhode Island.”

As part of that effort, the governor has told State Police Superintendent James M. Manni to develop a plan to equip all State Police officers with body cameras. Providence police have been using body cameras for about four years.

And she is directing the State Police to form a community outreach team “to find ways for departments to better engage the Rhode Islanders they serve.”

Also, Raimondo told the Department of Administration to institute mandatory implicit bias training for all executive branch employees and to create a plan for more comprehensive equity training.

Meanwhile, state officials are studying all state contracting practices to ensure that minority-owned businesses have an equal shot at procurement opportunities.

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Raimondo’s administration recently spent $34 million to build and equip field hospitals in response to the coronavirus pandemic without providing a dime for minority contractors — a situation that Latino and Black leaders called “inconceivable,” “disappointing,” and “unacceptable.”

State law requires that minority business enterprises must receive at least 10 percent of the dollar value of state purchases and construction projects. But because of the urgency of the public health crisis, the administration waived that requirement in order to award contracts quickly.

Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, a Black Providence Democrat, issued a statement praising the removal of “Providence Plantations” from official state documents.

“This is a good first step,” she said. “The greater work lies ahead, which is to ensure that Black Americans in Rhode Island have equitable social and economic resources to change the trajectory of their lives.”


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.