CNN projects Rhode Island voters have approved a measure that will strike “and Providence Plantations” from the state’s name: “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.”
This year’s Question 1 ballot proposition asked voters whether to amend the state Constitution by trimming that name to simply “State of Rhode Island.”
“Nobody is trying to eradicate the history that has been in play,” Democratic state Rep. Anastasia Williams of Providence, who worked to get the question placed on the ballot this year following George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police and worked with the “Yes on 1” campaign, said before the vote. “But we need to present the true and accurate history of it entirely, as opposed to just bits and pieces.”
Williams added: “If you don’t believe that that word has a life, a real dark painful life, then you’re seriously mistaken.”
What are ‘Providence Plantations’?
‘What does that accomplish?’
Rhode Island’s historian laureate, Patrick Conley, opposed the measure.
“My opposition is purely historical,” he told CNN, insisting his opposition is not racist. At the time Providence Plantations was founded, “plantations” simply referred to a tract of land or a farm, he said.
“The word ‘Providence’ is for God’s divine providence in giving Roger Williams a place to establish the American principle of religious liberty and church-state separation,” Conley said of Providence Plantations’ founder. “You want to wipe that away?”
Conley also questioned what striking the words from the state’s official name would achieve.
“What does that accomplish? Does that advance race relations in America? In the world?” Conley said before the vote. “It is what it is. History is what it is. You don’t whitewash history. That is an act of, frankly, stupidity.”
“Removing the word ‘plantation’ — it will never truly make the amends of the past, the horrors of the past, but at least makes amends,” said Democratic state Sen. Harold Metts of Providence, another legislative sponsor of the ballot question, before the election. He said he can trace his own family history of enslavement to a plantation in Virginia.
A prior campaign to change the name
“If people knew Rhode Island’s role in the slave trade, they would be more understanding,” Metts said before the vote. He and Williams cited the groundbreaking work by Brown University President Emerita Ruth J. Simmons studying the university and Rhode Island’s role in the slave trade.
“Accept the true and accurate history of what Rhode Island participated in, because it’s out in the open,” Williams said.
There was no organized opposition campaign filed with the state, though supporters of sticking with the full name made themselves known in opinion pages and letters to the editor.
Piecemeal local changes