The official full name of Rhode Island is “The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,” but this is set to change after the governor signed an executive order to shorten the name to just “Rhode Island”, detaching any official ties to slavery.
Many people are not even aware of the full name of the state. Although Rhode Island was the first colony to abolish slavery in 1652, the law was never enforced. The population of enslaved Black people in the state rose to more than 6 percent by the end of the 17th century and was twice as high as any other colony in New England.
In signing the order, governor Gina Raimondo wrote, “The pain that this association causes to some of our residents should be of concern to all Rhode Islanders and we should do everything in our power to ensure that all communities can take pride in our state.”
In addition to the executive order, a referendum bill was introduced by Harold Metts, Rhode Island’s only Black state senator, for residents to vote on the change this November. Legislation to change the name was introduced in 2010 but opposed by more than 75 percent of voters at the time.
Although mostly symbolic, changing names connected to slavery means opposing those aspects of racist history and demonstrates that state officials are committed to taking a stand against the legacies of slavery still visible in our country today.