Black leaders respond to Mattiello’s controversial Juneteenth and slavery comments
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — Rhode Island House Speaker Mattiello admitted Friday on WPRO Radio that he was not familiar with Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S.
And in a discussion about the possibility of the state dropping “Plantations” from its full official name, the speaker was seemingly unsure of whether Rhode Island ever had slavery — using the phrase “if we did.”
The comments are raising eyebrows among some, who point out that Rhode Island not only had slaves, but was pivotal in the slave trade.
“I’m surprised, but I’m not shocked,” said Jim Vincent, president of the local NAACP chapter. “Because I do know that he’s not the only one that did not know that there was slavery in Rhode Island.”
But other Black leaders say it’s particularly unacceptable coming from the Speaker.
“I don’t believe the Speaker is positioned to be able to lead the current body of work that is required,” said Lisa Ranglin of the Rhode Island Black Business Association. “Having the history would’ve allowed him to make better decisions to ensure that we’re moving people from poverty to sustainability. I think the speaker has a lot of work to do.”
And some say that means education.
“People need to go read, they need to go find out,” said Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassel, a Democrat representing District 5 in the House. “But most importantly, they need to talk to Black people.”
“Speaker Mattiello is certainly aware of Rhode Island’s shameful involvement in the slave trade,” Mattiello’s spokesman, Larry Berman said in a statement late Friday afternoon. “He supports placing on the ballot this November the removal of the word ‘plantations’ from the state’s name so that all Rhode Islanders can make their opinions known. As this discussion is evolving, the Speaker is asking Rhode Islanders to join him in learning more about this sad chapter in our state’s history. We began the journey in the House last night by passing a resolution calling for all public schools to incorporate African-American history as part of the curriculum.”