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Rhode Island moves to change state's official name due to slavery connotations

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The state of Rhode Island is moving to change its official name — "The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" — due to its connection to slavery.  Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo signed an executive order on Monday to change what appears on government documents, and the state's legislature is moving forward with a bill to alter the name entirely. 

"Many of the State's residents find it painful that a word so closely associated with slavery should appear in the official name of the State," 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."

The order will shorten the name to "Rhode Island" in official communications from the governor's office, including executive orders and citations, and will also change the state's website. It will also remove the word "plantations" from all state agency websites and official correspondence, effective "as soon as practicable." 

Governor Gina Raimondo addresses protesters, saying a prayer with them and telling them she will listen and work with them, after they called for her to come out and hear their demands during a Black Lives Matter rally on the steps of the State House in Providence, Rhode Island on June 5, 2020. Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

"Rhode Island was founded on the principles of acceptance and tolerance, and our state's name – and actions – should reflect those values," Raimondo tweeted Monday.

Over 7,300 people have signed a petition supporting the name change. 

The Rhode Island Senate unanimously called for a statewide vote on the name change last week after the bill was introduced in part by the state's only Black senator, Harold Metts. The state legislature signaled it will move forward with the referendum. 

"Whatever the history of the term is in Rhode Island, it is an unnecessary and painful reminder of our nation's racist past," Metts, who traces his lineage on his mother's side to the Speck Plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia, said in a statement. "It is a hurtful term to so many of us."

Voters will need to choose to amend the Rhode Island Constitution in November before the state's official name can be permanently changed. 

This isn't the first time the state has attempted to change its name: When the state tried in 2010, 78% of voters opposed the removal of "Providence Plantations." But Metts said he has renewed hope.

"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," Metts said in a statement. "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."

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