What is in a Name? Plenty.
For those voting this coming week think. How many of today’s citizens living in Rhode Island know that had John Winthrop, no doubt an ancestor of Christian, not warned Roger Williams to flee Salem he may have been shipped to England and not been protected by both the Wampanoag and Narragansett?
How many know that two of Providence Agreement signatories were women, extraordinary in the day and time 1640. Or that in 1652 Providence Plantation passed America’s first anti-slavery legislation. Or that when founded the word ‘plantation’ was a synonym for ‘colony’ or ‘settlement’ and ‘Providence’ was used to indicate that something was under the protective care of God. Given these definitions, the name ‘Providence Plantations’ indicates a place of social acceptance, religious freedom, and ethnic diversity
It is important to honor the legacy of Roger Williams and the ideals upon which he founded Providence Plantations, which was as a peaceful settlement based on tolerance. The proposal to change the State name is a misguided and superficial band aid that is not helpful in our quest to solve the issues of racial injustice.
The name is not a reference to the slave plantations that were built later in the South as the state senator who proposed the name change says come to mind for him. While I respect his feelings, the fact is Providence Plantations should conjure exactly the opposite image.
Williams’ view on freedom and equality are legendary. He learned the language of indigenous people and sought to purchase the land from them.
As a reminder, Providence Plantations was founded separate from Rhode Island (which was the name of Aquidneck Island), and Providence Plantations was governed by the principles of liberty and the separation of church and state. It is Williams’ thoughts on freedom that are in our nation’s Bill of Rights. Down the road, the smallest state obtained the longest name when Rhode Island merged with Providence Plantations. The union, with the powerful Newport segment of the population, rejected the anti-slavery legislation of Providence Plantations.
We should reflect on the sad fact that the slave trade flourished here on Rhode Island based ships but that has nothing to do with the full name of the settlement, it was contrary to it.
For those who argue it is like the confederate flag, it is not. In that case people who fought under the flag seceded from our union, committed treason and took up arms against the US while in the process supporting an unjust and immoral system.
Hopefully the proposed name change will lead a greater understanding of our States founding father’s vision and inspire us to do substantive work to improve racial and social justice in our society not conjure up negativity. It should further uphold the beliefs of tolerance and freedom upon which our State is founded.
I will be voting NO to changing the name of our state
Anthony M. Iacono