STATE HOUSE — The Senate voted unanimously today in
support of legislation sponsored by Sen. Harold M. Metts to ask voters in
November whether to change the official state name. The proposal would
eliminate “and Providence Plantations” from the state’s official name, “Rhode
Island and Providence Plantations,” because the outdated reference conjures an
image of a time and place when slavery was widely accepted.
Because the name change requires a constitutional change, it
must be approved by the voters to take effect.
Senator Metts, along with Rep. Joseph S. Almeida (D-Dist.
12, Providence), led the drive to change the state’s name a decade ago as well.
In 2009, he sponsored the Senate version of the resolution that placed a
similar question on the 2010 General Election ballot. The question was defeated
by the voters, but Senator Metts believes the time has come to ask the public
“A decade has passed since the public was asked this
question. Attitudes may have changed substantially, even in the past few years
— and even in the past few weeks,” said Senator Metts (D-Dist. 6, Providence).
“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.”
He continued, “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. 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
The senator noted that his own church, Congdon Street Baptist
Church, where he serves as a deacon, was demolished by its white neighbors on
Meeting Street in Providence before it was rebuilt in its current location. His
own maternal lineage can be traced back to the Speck Plantation near
Charlottesville, VA, according his great, great aunt, Bertha Hawkins-Cooper,
who lived to be 106 years old.
“Making this change would pay some respect to our ancestors
who were forced into slavery, and would stop serving as a constant reminder to
present-day Rhode Islanders of our painful past,” he said.
The joint resolution (2020-S 2902) now goes to the House of Representatives, which
also must approve in order for the question to be placed on the ballot. Rep.
Anastasia P. Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence) introduced companion legislation
in that chamber today.
The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Senators Sandra Cano
(D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket), Ana B. Quezada (D-Dist 2, Providence), President of the
Senate Dominick J. Ruggerio (D–Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence) and
Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D–Dist. 1, Providence).