BOSTON (AP) — Boston’s City Council on Wednesday is expected to debate whether to hold a hearing on renaming Faneuil Hall, a popular tourist site that is named after a wealthy merchant who owned and traded slaves.
In calling for the hearing, Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson has filed a resolution decrying the building’s namesake, Peter Faneuil, as a “white supremacist, a slave trader, and a slave owner who contributed nothing recognizable to the ideal of democracy.”
The push is part of a larger discussion on forms of atonement to Black Bostonians for the city’s role in slavery and its legacy of inequality.
The downtown meeting house was built for the city by Faneuil in 1742 and was where Samuel Adams and other American colonists made some of the earliest speeches urging independence from Britain.
“It is important that we hold a hearing on changing the name of this building because the name disrespects Black people in the city and across the nation,” Pastor Valerie Copeland, of the Dorchester Neighborhood Church, said in a statement. “Peter Faneuil’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade is an embarrassment to us all.”
The Rev. John Gibbons, a minister at the Arlington Street Church, said in a statement that the goal is not to erase history with a name change but to correct the record. “He was a man who debased other human beings,” he said. “His name should not be honored in a building called the cradle of liberty.”
Some activists suggested the building could instead honor Crispus Attucks, a Black man considered the first American killed in the Revolutionary War.
The City Council can hold a hearing on the name, but it doesn’t have the authority to actually rename Faneuil Hall. That power lies with a little-known city board called the Public Facilities Commission.
The push to rename famous spots in Boston is not new.
In 2019, Boston officials approved renaming the square in the historically Black neighborhood of Roxbury to Nubian Square from Dudley Square. Roxbury is the historic center of the state’s African American community. It’s where a young Martin Luther King, Jr. preached and Malcolm X grew up.
Supporters wanted the commercial center renamed because Roxbury resident Thomas Dudley was a leading politician when Massachusetts legally sanctioned slavery in the 1600s.
A year earlier, the Red Sox successfully petitioned to change the name of a street near Fenway Park that honored a former team owner who had resisted integration.