Seal of the State of Rhode Island and Providence PlantationsI’ve written before about the movement in Rhode Island to remove the words “Providence Plantations” from the state’s name. Supporters argue that these words constitute an offensive reminder of the state’s, and the nation’s, history of slavery.

Last night, the R.I. state legislature approved the constitutional amendment which would change the state’s name. The measure will go before the voters of Rhode Island next year.

I’ve written before that I’m quite sympathetic to the argument for changing the state’s name. The word “plantation” has never been limited to the circumstances of chattel slavery, and the history of the state’s name shows that the words “Providence Plantations” did not have anything to do with slave plantations. Supporters point out, however, that the history of slavery in Rhode Island and the United States has left a legacy under which many Americans associate “plantations” with this terrible history and with unresolved issues in our society. As a result, an apparent reference to slavery in the very name of the state is, naturally, deeply repugnant to many people.

The proposed constitutional amendment would simply change the formal name of the state from “Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” to “Rhode Island.” The proposal required the approval of majorities of both chambers of the General Assembly, and must now be approved by voters as a ballot measure in November 2010.

The measure had been stalled since June, when the state house and senate approved slightly different versions of the proposed amendment. The vote last night in the House of Representatives, however, was an overwhelming 52-4.

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