A Boston grassroots organization is continuing its push to rename historic Faneuil Hall, taking its message to remove the historic building’s slave trader namesake from its title to City Hall plaza Tuesday amid the national outpouring of demonstrations against racial disparities and injustice.
The New Democracy Coalition, which for nearly three years has been advocating for the name change for what’s also known as the “Cradle of Liberty,” organized a group of faith and community leaders to renew that call as the country publicly grapples with longstanding impacts of systemic racism.
“Massachusetts was the first state to abolish slavery, yet the residual effects of systemic racism remain,” Kevin Peterson, founder of the coalition, said in a statement. “Now is the time when we can build on past successes and build a better environment for the future.”
The hall bears the name of Peter Faneuil, the 18th century merchant and slaveowner who traded slaves and raw goods. Faneuil had the building built and later donated it to the city.
Those who gathered for Tuesday’s “speak out” event touched on the need for a name change while also drawing attention to the larger, prevalent problems of racism and white supremacy.
According to NBC 10 Boston, Peterson offered support for reforming police departments and practices in the wake of the death of George Floyd, the Black man killed in Minneapolis police custody last month.
“We forget that law and order are grounded in justice and the rule of law,” Peterson said. “This is the foundation of the United States Constitution.”
Dr. Jill Stein, the two-time Green Party presidential candidate and a former Green-Rainbow Party gubernatorial candidate in Massachusetts, also voiced support for the name change and backed the coalition’s call for the creation of a formal commission on race relations in the state to recommend policy changes.
“White supremacy is really the living legacy of slavery,” Stein said. “Slavery was abolished and now we must abolish white supremacy.”
Mayor Marty Walsh, however, has been opposed in recent years to the prospect of renaming the historic space.
“What we should do instead, is figure out a way to acknowledge the history so people understand it,” the mayor said in 2018. “We can’t erase history, but we can learn from it.”
Responding to Walsh’s pledge to make Boston a national leader in combating racism, Peterson, in a statement last week, called out the mayor for not doing enough to tackle the systemic issue in a significant way.
“All across the nation communities are addressing the issue of systemic racism by taking down statues and icons that humiliate black people,” he said. “These actions have led people to have real racial dialogue. The state of Virginia is taking down a confederate statue this week in acknowledgement that racism is conveyed through icons.
“We call on Mayor Walsh once again to change the name of Faneuil Hall because it represents racism,” Peterson added. “It is an evil symbol that expresses the city’s discrimination practices in so many dimensions. It humiliates black people in Boston. So Mayor Walsh, if you purport to lead black people in Boston then you shut up and to listen to the sound of black pain.”