Some Want to Change Rhode Island’s Official Name

Published June 29, 2009

Did you know that the tiny state of Rhode Island officially has a very, very long name?

Well, if many residents of the "State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" have their way, that elongated moniker would be reduced to one that does not conjure up the reminder of New England’s less than savory history of slavery.

Last week, the state House voted 70-3 to let residents decide whether their home should simply be called the "State of Rhode Island" – minus the “Providence Plantations” part.

"It's high time for us to recognize that slavery happened on plantations in Rhode Island and decide that we don't want that chapter of our history to be a proud part of our name," said Rep. Joseph Almeida, an African-American lawmaker who sponsored the bill.” That bill, which permits a statewide referendum on the issue next year, now heads to the state Senate.

According to The Associated Press, Roger Williams, who was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, set out in 1636 and settled at the northern tip of Narragansett Bay, which he called Providence Plantations.

“Williams founded the first Baptist church in America and became famous for embracing the separation of church and state, a legal principle enshrined in the Bill of Rights a century later,” AP writes. “In 1663, English King Charles II granted a royal charter joining all the settlements into a single colony called "The Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Rhode Island used that royal charter as its governing document until 1843.”

Merchants in the tiny state made their fortunes off the slave trade. Slaves helped build Brown University in Providence, and a prominent slave trader paid half the cost of its first library, according to AP.

Written by BET.com Staff

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