But Rhode Island, whatever the demographic shifts of recent years, is still an overwhelmingly white state. And even in the age of Obama, convincing the electorate to get behind the name change could take some work.

Richard Lobban, a professor emeritus at Rhode Island College who ran the school's African and African-American studies program for 13 years, is prepared to make the case. He's been doing it for years.

"The fact of the matter is, from the very beginning, we had slaves," he said.

Indians and Africans were pressed into servitude in the early colonial days. Merchants engaged in a "triangle trade" that swapped rum for African slaves, and slaves for West Indies molasses, which was used to distill more rum.

Narragansett horses were a favorite among overseers in the Caribbean. Salt cod harvested here was a staple food for slaves. Slavery was no ancillary part of Rhode Island's early economy, Lobban said. It was a central force. A shameful mark on a state that prides itself on a tradition of tolerance.

This is heavy stuff. And the people of Rhode Island, perhaps dimly aware of Brown's efforts to dig into its own history, could be forced to confront the state's larger entanglement with the slave trade head-on now that the plantations question is moving forward.

We'll see how they react.

< prev  1  |  2  | 
Related: Indentured servitude and other keys to the Rhode Island recovery, The Old Timer’s Tap, once a dealmaker’s den, looks for a buyer, Review: The Help, More more >
  Topics: This Just In , Barack Obama, Politics, Political Policy,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY DAVID SCHARFENBERG
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   LIBERAL WARRIOR  |  April 10, 2013
    When it comes to his signature issues — climate change, campaign finance reform, tax fairness — Whitehouse makes little secret of his approach: marshal the facts, hammer the Republicans, and embarrass them into action.
  •   AT BROWN, A WIN FOR CLIMATE CHANGE ACTIVISTS  |  April 11, 2013
    A key Brown University oversight committee has voted to recommend the school divest from coal, delivering a significant victory to student climate change activists.
  •   HACKING POLITICS: A GUIDE  |  April 03, 2013
    Last year, the Internet briefly upended everything we know about American politics.
  •   BREAK ON THROUGH  |  March 28, 2013
    When I spoke with Treasurer Gina Raimondo this week, I opened with the obligatory question about whether she'll run for governor. "I'm seriously considering it," she said. "But I think as you know — we've talked about it before — I have little kids: a six-year-old, an eight-year-old. I'm a mother. It's a big deal."
  •   THE LIBERAL CASE FOR GUNS  |  March 27, 2013
    The school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut spurred hope not just for sensible gun regulation, but for a more nuanced discussion of America's gun culture. Neither wish has been realized.

 See all articles by: DAVID SCHARFENBERG