Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed an executive order Monday that could change the state’s official name to exclude a portion that has ties to slavery.
The state’s official name is “the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,” and the “Providence Plantations” portion has come under scrutiny in the aftermath of protests following the death of George Floyd.
Raimondo signed executive order 20-48, which addressed the slavery ties and puts the issue as a referendum on the ballot in November.
In the meantime, Rhode Island will cease using the state’s full name in executive orders and on the state’s official websites and official government documents.
Phone and email requests to the governor’s office for comment were not immediately returned.
Rhode Island’s official name includes “Providence Plantations” after the name of a settlement founded in 1636 by Roger Williams that now includes the state’s capital city, according to the state government’s website.
Although Rhode Island passed a law in 1652 banning African slavery, it was never enforced and the state later “played a leading role in the transatlantic slave trade,” according to the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University in Providence.
The word “plantation” has a connotation associated with slavery leading up to the Civil War. Plantations in the Deep South owned by wealthy white landowners often tasked enslaved black Americans to do the fieldwork, 60% of whom picked cotton, according to the Understanding Slavery Initiative.
The Rhode Island state Senate proposed a resolution on June 17 to change the state’s official name as well. The document says it was referred to the Senate calendar, though the exact date when a vote might occur was not clear.
It was also unclear how the governor’s executive order affects the proposed resolution, if at all.
A 2010 vote on the same issue came back overwhelmingly against changing the name, with 78% of voters opting to retain the Providence Plantations portion, according to The Providence Journal.