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‘I’m not a racist’: Marty Walsh responded to a call-in from the activist pushing to rename Faneuil Hall

"You know where my heart is," the mayor said.

Kevin Peterson, founder and executive director of The New Democracy Coalition holds a metal urn, Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in Boston, as he pours a red substance as a protest meant to symbolize the blood of fallen black people who died under under white suppression and slavery. Peterson advocates changing the name of Faneuil Hall, as its namesake Peter Faneuil was a slave owner. Steven Senne / AP

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Marty Walsh and Kevin Peterson, the local activist leading the charge for the city to rename Faneuil Hall, sparred in a tense exchange on the radio Friday, days after Peterson launched a “hunger fast” to call on the mayor to take action on the name change.

While Peterson, founder of the local grassroots civic organization The New Democracy Coalition, has pushed for the renaming of the historic tourist destination for several years, Walsh has remained opposed to the idea — a stance he reiterated during a Thursday press conference.

Peterson called into the mayor’s monthly appearance on WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio” Friday afternoon to tell Walsh why he thinks such a move is necessary.


“There is a great need, particularly within the Black community, to re-identify Faneuil Hall,” Peterson told the mayor. “Peter Faneuil was a white supremacist, someone who owned slaves, someone who willed his slaves to his sister after he died. It is exceedingly clear that we should not have racist symbol reflected in our public institutions, our public buildings, which Faneuil Hall is one of.”

Faneuil, an 18th century merchant, built the now-historic property with money he made trading slaves and raw goods. Faneuil, who owned five slaves at the time of his death, donated the hall to the city.

On Monday, Peterson, a minister, launched the hunger fast, vowing to keep it up until Walsh “identifies an immediate date” for city hearings on renaming the building.

The move comes after activists behind the effort recently reiterated their calls for action from city leaders as the nation grapples with the impacts of systemic racism and white supremacy following the death of George Floyd, the Black man who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis last month.

Walsh, asked about the hunger fast on Thursday, said a hearing would fall under the City Council’s purview. Although he indicated earlier this month he might be open to having conversations regarding a name change, the mayor made clear his own stance against the prospect remains the same.


“I think that if we change the name of Faneuil Hall, 30 years from now we’d forget what happened there,” Walsh said, echoing similar comments he’s made in years past. “And I think there’s certain parts of our history we should use and learn from, and so I’m not in support of changing the name of Faneuil Hall.”

On WGBH Friday, Peterson acknowledged that Walsh’s point may be true, but said the public will still know about white supremacy.

“We don’t need the name of Faneuil Hall,” he added. “It embarrasses Black people.”

Walsh said he’s known Peterson for a long time. The mayor appeared to take umbrage with statements made against him in a New Democracy Coalition press release from June 5 in which Peterson urged Walsh to “shut up and listen to the sound of Black pain.”

“You say you are committed to real change so please shut up and listen,” Peterson said in the statement. “You say you want to make Boston a leader around race, so please shut up and listen.”

Walsh had a suggestion for Peterson: “(I) ask you when you do a press statement in the future, you don’t call me stupid,” Walsh said Friday. “You don’t tell me to shut up. And you don’t call me a racist.


“And I think that that’s a very hard conversation to have when you’re coming from that standpoint and you’ve known me for a long time,” Walsh added. “You know I’m not a racist, you know where my heart is, and you know that there’s opportunities of conversation. And I just — that’s how I’ll respond.”

In a statement released after the call-in to the show, Peterson said, however, he never called Walsh “racist” or “stupid.”

A review by Boston.com of an archive of press releases published by Peterson dating back to July 2019 shows he did not call Walsh either of those words.

“I challenge the mayor to produce a press release in which I made such charges against him,” Peterson said. “The mayor’s statement is false and slanderous. His statement further muddies the racial waters our city is currently seeking to negotiate.”

Peterson’s call for public hearings is just one of a few requests activists have for city officials.

On Wednesday, Peterson released a new set of demands, ranging from a call for the City of Boston to formally apologize for slavery and the harm it inflicted, to making certain the city’s service contracts reflect the diversity of Boston’s population over the next five years.

“We will continue to press our case,” he said.


Nik DeCosta-Klipa contributed reporting.


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