by Danny Altman, on location in New England
There are very few people outside of the state commonly known as Rhode Island who know that the state’s real name for the last 372 years has been Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. For the past few years, there has been a movement afoot in Rhode Island to eliminate the Providence Plantations part of the state’s name on the grounds that it brings back memories of the state’s role in the slave trade and makes some residents cringe.
When you’ve had a name for that long, you should probably think long and hard about changing it. Even if there were slaves in Rhode Island, which there weren’t, we question whether political correctness in the year 2009 is a good enough reason to change your name.
Today’s equivalent of Rhode Island’s role in the slave trade would be your role in child slavery in the Marianas. If you buy a polo from the Gap that was made there, one could argue that you are supporting slavery. Rhode Island imported molasses from the West Indies that was distilled into rum, which was purchased and in turn partially used to buy slaves in West Africa. It’s a distant relationship.
The full name of the state is a piece of history. When people hear it, even if they have a negative reaction at first, it’s the beginning of a very interesting story that shows that Rhode Island was an incredibly progressive place from its very beginnings, when it became a refuge for people looking for relief from religious oppression in the other colonies.
In fact, the colony passed laws abolishing witchcraft trials, imprisonment for debt, most capital punishment, and on March 18, 1652, it outlawed slavery.
Your name is a fundamental part of who you are. If you’re going to change it, you should have a really good reason. To us, an overzealous reaction to the word “plantation” isn’t a good enough reason.