Boston’s Faneuil Hall is named for a slaver. This afternoon, Kevin Peterson, founder of the Boston-based New Democracy Coalition, launched a hunger fast at the landmark across from Boston City Hall as part of his multi-year effort to get the building renamed.

“This building behind me is a publicly owned building that we want to have renamed in the city of Boston because it’s named after a slave owner,” Kevin Peterson said in a Facebook live video this afternoon. “…We do not want to remove the hall or have it torn down. We want to have the hall renamed after someone who wasn’t a slave owner.”

“We’ve been petitioning the mayor for over two years to simply allow citizens of Boston to hold a hearing,” Peterson said. “And the mayor of Boston has refused to talk to us and the City Council has refused to talk to us.”

Update June 24: On the afternoon of June 23, the press office for Boston Mayor Marty Walsh emailed: “We have no comment on the demonstration, but as a reminder, below is the Mayor’s previous statement on renaming Faneuil Hall: ‘If we were to change the name of Faneuil Hall today, 30 years from now, no one would know why we did it. Not many people know about the history of that man. And over the years, Faneuil Hall has become a place where good things have happened: historic speeches such as Frederick Douglass’ call for the end to slavery, the signing of forward thinking legislation like the Affordable Care Act, and where hundreds of people take their oath of citizenship every year. What we should do instead, is figure out a way to acknowledge the history so people understand it. We can’t erase history, but we can learn from it.'”

Late that night, the New Democracy Coalition sent out an email saying: “As Black organizers begin a second night of camping outside of historic Faneuil Hall, Mayor Marty Walsh continued to avoid meeting about setting a public hearing date related to changing the name of Faneuil Hall.”

Peterson said he would appear on Facebook live every hour on the hour praying and fasting “until we’re exhausted or until we hear directly from the mayor. … I will not leave. I’ll be fasting. … I ate for the last time at 3 o‘ clock this afternoon and I will not eat again until I hear from Mayor Walsh” confirming that public hearings have been scheduled to consider changing the name of Faneuil Hall.

Kevin Peterson, founder of the Boston-based New Democracy Coalition, featured in a graphic from the group, June 22, 2020.
Kevin Peterson, founder of the Boston-based New Democracy Coalition, featured in a graphic from the group, June 22, 2020.

Faneuil Hall was built in 1742 by Peter Faneuil, one of the wealthiest merchants in 18th century Boston, to give it to the city. His money came from a large inheritance from an uncle as well as trade in fish, tobacco, produce, rum, molasses, and enslaved people. The building, which was donated to the city upon Faneuil’s death, became both a public marketplace and a meeting hall where the American Revolution sparked.

The New Democracy Coalition has been pushing for Faneuil Hall to be renamed for about two years. Their efforts have included a reenactment of slave auction outside the building as part of their “It Is What It Was Speak Out” in November 2018 (start watching the video below at 56 minutes).

“This place was a place where humans were sold into slavery, African humans. And we believe that it is time now for us to change the name and move forward as a better city and as a better democracy,” Kevin Peterson said today. “…We don’t want this symbol of White supremacy, Faneuil Hall that’s behind me, to continue to mock the very idea democracy. So we’ve called on a boycott of this place.”

Peterson continued, “It is not a cradle of liberty as its been touted, for African Americans in particularly, it’s a house of horrors, it’s a place were enslavement began and where slavery was ignored by our founding fathers. … Some things must go as a tribute to those who lost their lives in slavery.”

Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, Boston, Aug. 28, 2015. (Greg Cook photo)
Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, Boston, Aug. 28, 2015. (Greg Cook photo)

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Categories: Activism