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Protesters demand Boston change name of historic Faneuil Hall

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JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

Social justice protesters gathered outside Boston City Hall Wednesday demanding that the city rename Faneuil Hall, a historic pre-Revolutionary War landmark that is a popular destination for tourists.

Activists say Faneuil Hall's namesake, Peter Faneuil, was a slave owner and human trafficker.

A group called the New Democracy Coalition organized Wednesday's protest, where activists carried signs that read, "Repair and Reconciliation Change the Name" and marched from city hall to the main Faneuil brick visitor center, the Boston Globe reported.

Demonstrators shouted "change the name" as they marched.

“We are calling upon our city leadership to act with decisiveness in addressing the deep and persistent anti-Black racism that exists in Boston,” Rev. Kevin Peterson, the New Democracy Coalition founder, said in a statement. “We must challenge ourselves to create [a] Boston that reflects our desire for a just and fair city.”

Upon reaching Faneuil Hall, the protesters began singing and Rev. John Gibbons of the Arlington Street Church in Boston delivered an address.

“I am here now, because this is the time for white allies and accomplices to clearly say that our collective future depends on a Boston that speaks honestly about our history, while also proclaiming that our future will be unlike our past,” Gibbons said, according to the Globe.

“This name, Faneuil, shackles us to our past and locks us from our future. Today let us pray in the name of all those known and unknown who once were scorned on the auction block here that we will break the shackles that bind us still and that we will forge a new vision of the beloved community as yet we must become in one voice together. Let us all say amen.”

Faneuil Hall was gifted to the city of Boston in 1742 by Peter Faneuil, a wealthy merchant who had made his fortune shipping goods in the Atlantic's "triangular trade" routes. Faneuil traded a wide variety of goods including, but not limited to, fish, rum, molasses, sugar, manufactured goods, and timber, according to Boston National Historical Park.

Many of the goods Faneuil traded were produced by slave labor, such as molasses, sugar, and rum imported from the West Indies. Historians say Faneuil's business was not directly involved in the slave trade, but he participated in it and owned slaves. On at least one occasion Faneuil directed one of his captains to purchase an enslaved person "for the use of my house," according to historical documents.

Faneuil died in 1743, a year after his namesake marketplace was constructed and donated to the city of Boston. A Boston News-Letter correspondent described him at the time as "a gentleman possessed of a very ample fortune, and a most generous spirit…whose hospitality to all, and a secret unbounded charity to the poor, made…his death a general loss… to the inhabitants."

After his funeral, Bostonians voted to name the landmark after Faneuil as a testament in thankfulness for his generosity.

A spokesman for Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said it is "critical to acknowledge and address the role of slavery in our nation’s founding and the deep inequities that remain today."

"As we work to build an equitable Boston for everyone, the city is committed to advancing racial justice and learning from our past and right wrongs,” Wu's office said.

In a separate statement, City Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson said she supports the protest and will work to change Faneuil Hall's name.

”There is no reason why, in 2022, a famous tourist attraction and business center in the City of Boston should be named after someone who grew rich by buying and selling enslaved Africans, and even at the time of his death, still owned five human beings,” she said.

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