Rhode Island voters approved Question 1 to remove the phrase “and Providence Plantations” from the state’s official name. Proponents of the change argued that the word “plantations” has associations with southern plantations and Rhode Island’s participation in the slave trade. Patrick T. Conley explained in his letter to the editor on October 29th that the name “Providence Plantation” has no connection to southern plantations or Rhode Island’s history of slavery. Instead he writes, “the produce of William’s plantation was not cotton or rice or the crops grown in the 18th century on our own South County slave farms, but rather religious liberty and interracial justice.” Rhode Island’s involvement in slavery came after Williams founded Providence Plantations.
One casualty of historical revisionism was the removal of “providence” from the state’s name. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.302 defines Providence as: “The universe was created ‘in a state of journeying’ toward an ultimate perfection yet to be attained, which God has destined it. We call ‘divine providence’ the dispositions by which God guides his creation toward perfection.” Recognition of God’s Providence is precisely what our state and country needs. The doctrine of God’s Providence means that God can bring good out of evil. Amid so much uncertainty and evil in the world we can find relief knowing that God’s Providence continues to function.
Proponents of the name change hail this as a victory for racial sensitivity. Redefining history and changing the name of a state does little to help the plight of those suffering from racism. Learning from our past mistakes and relying on God’s Providence to overcome evil works much better.