A Year On, Rhode Island Buildings Still Say “Plantations”
Providence, RI – Rhode Island dropped the phrase “Providence Plantations” from its name a year ago, but not from its buildings.
Providence Plantations is inscribed in marble near the dome of the State House and on the bronze plaques in the entrance. The status seal with the previous full name is on the round floor, elevator doors, door numbers, and direction signs. He’s even on the rug in front of a picture of George Washington in the state room.
Voters chose to strip the phrase “and Providence Farms” from Rhode Island’s official name a year ago by agreeing to a statewide referendum, which was revived amid the nation’s recognition of racial injustice after the killing of George Floyd. The word “plantations” did not specifically refer to a place where slaves worked, but proponents of the measure insisted that it raised such images and was abusive.
Democrat Gina Raimondo signed an executive order in June 2020, when she was governor, to change state employee paychecks and the locations of executive agencies. Voters approved the referendum in November 2020.
Since then, the state has changed official websites, business cards, and state employee paychecks. New letterhead is used and citations are issued with a new state seal.
Dan Mackey’s administration officials said the administration is still gathering an inventory of where the drafting still exists, as well as identifying potential costs and best practices for removal. A working group will meet before the end of the year to set goals for the next year.
State Representative Anastasia Williams, a Providence Democrat, lobbied for the state’s name to be changed. Now she says there are other very serious issues at hand that state leaders need to address — the ongoing pandemic, the growing number of homeless, the need to welcome immigrants and refugees, and an education system that has failed children of color.
“I’m not ignoring any of the importance of that, but for me as a priority we really won that fight and we know it has to be done,” Williams said last week. “We have some serious things on hand that haven’t been taken seriously.”
She added that what was left of the old name could be an opportunity to start conversations about what voters voted for and why.
Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea is the protector of the state seal, and she was using a new embosser to apply the redesigned state seal to official documents.
Gorbea is running for governor. If elected, she would make sure that there was a plan to remove the old name from the more challenging places, particularly the seal on the State House rotunda, since many people see it there.
“This is the change the voters wanted, and so we should, at the very least, have a plan. If it is not done, why not? But if it can be done, let us do it,” said Gorbea.
In early November, state DMA officials said they would share an inventory of where the state’s old name was written and costs to change it, but as of this week they have not provided that accounting to the Associated Press. In the DOA building, the old state seal is on the front desk and in the room guide.
Rhode Island was incorporated as Rhode Island and Providence Plantations when the state was proclaimed in 1790. In 2010, nearly eight out of 10 voters rejected the shorter name in a referendum.
Gorbea said she fears people will become cynical if they vote for the change, but the more audience-facing shows remain the same.
“The state has changed, times have changed and the government needs to change to accommodate that,” she said.
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