Faneuil Hall Name Change NeededRoundup
tags: slavery, Boston, public history, Peter Faneuil
Marty Blatt is an affiliate professor of public history at Northeastern University and David J. Harris is managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School.
In light of the lynching of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter uprising, we call on the city of Boston to engage in the ongoing conversation, initiated by Kevin Peterson and the New Democracy Coalition more than a year ago, about changing the name of Faneuil Hall. Indeed, this would be consistent with the decision of Boston to remove the copy of the memorial, “The Emancipation Group,” which depicts a standing Lincoln and kneeling black man gazing up at him.
If the statue of a figure as revered as Lincoln is being removed, how can we retain the name of Peter Faneuil, a local merchant who became one of the wealthiest men in the colonies buying and selling human beings. Although most of us are aware of the Atlantic slave trade originating in Africa, historian Jared Hardesty has documented that Faneuil’s ship, The Jolly Bachelor, was involved in trafficking enslaved people throughout the West Indies and into New England. This smaller scale, inter-American slaving, Hardesty argues, was the primary way Bostonians participated in the slave trade. Indeed, as a successful merchant, Faneuil also extended credit to other New Englanders engaged in the slave trade and was, as such, a financier of white supremacy.
Does having paid for the building warrant retaining the name in perpetuity, when doing so maintains a place of honor and respect? We might well ask whether Faneuil actually paid for the building or whether it was purchased by the lives and freedom of those he transported and sold.
Some argue that Faneuil Hall, whatever its origins story, has ironically become known as the cradle of liberty, a historic site whose name has become associated with abolitionists and suffragists who spoke there. In removing the name of Faneuil, so this argument goes, history is being erased. We would counter that by retaining the name of Faneuil, we in Boston do a great disservice to history by concealing his true past. Many visitors to Boston and many Bostonians have no idea that Faneuil was a slave trader.
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