Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Poke-Em-With-A-Stick-Wednesday: Rhode Island

So, there's a good chance Rhode Island will soon be changing its name, according to a news report from last week*

Why? Well, there are advocates who argue that shortening it will make a statement against slavery.

Slavery? Isn't it a little late in the day to take a principled stand on that?

Here, so far as I can follow it, is more or less how the argument goes. The full official name of what we were all taught in school to call 'Rhode Island' is actually "The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" -- the longest name for the smallest state. That's because, tiny as it is, it's actually made up of the union of two original colonies: one on The Island (originally Rhode Island, now sometimes called Aquidneck Island) and the other on the mainland called the Providence Plantations. To some folks today, the word "plantation" is inseparably mixed with the slave plantations that developed a century or so later in the South. Hence, they argue, removing the words "Providence Plantations" from the state's name will somehow be striking a blow for freedom. Somehow. Aside from pointing out that they're about a hundred and forty years too late, it's deeply ironic that "Providence Plantations" was actually the colony founded by the man who was pretty much America's first abolitionist, Roger Williams, so that this change actually eliminates some of his admirable legacy.

What next? Legislators in Arkansas moving to change the spelling back to "Arkansaw" so clueless out-of-staters can pronounce it right? Or folks in one of the Dakotas changing their state's name to just "Dakota" so that the other (whether "North" or "South") looks like a poor relation, a la "Virginia" and "West Virginia"?




David Bratman said...

Once again, satire is outflanked by reality.

"Hoping that a name change will help the state seem a little less cold and forbidding, the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce is supporting a proposal to rename the state ''Dakota.'' Some officials worry that the plan would subject the state to the same sort of national ridicule it faced in 1989, when the Legislature defeated a proposal to drop ''North'' from its name."

- New York Times, June 27, 2001

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi David

I actually based the Dakota comment on an episode of THE WEST WING I saw years ago (the listen-to-your-constitutes-for-a-day one), though I cdn't remember which state it was, North or South. But I had no idea, until reading yr comment, that they based this on a real incident. Thanks for the real-world surreality check.