Faneuil Hall Was Built With Slave Money. Is Its Name Next to Go?

Momentum is gathering in a push to rename the landmark.

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After the official renaming earlier this year of Yawkey Way—a tribute to the former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, who resisted integrating his team—activists have set their sights on changing the name of another landmark with a troubling legacy: Faneuil Hall.

A group of faith leaders met in front of the building this weekend to call to wipe away the name of Peter Faneuil, a wealthy merchant whose money helped build it in 1742. As they pointed out, not only did Faneuil own slaves (five of them), as many did in his day, he sold and transported slaves, once overseeing the shipping of 20 slaves from Guinea. The suffering of enslaved people fueled the wealth that built one of Boston’s best-known landmarks. So, advocates with a group called the New Democracy Coalition and others say, it’s time we stopped celebrating Faneuil once and for all. They have called on the City Council to act and begin holding hearings on the issue.

“Our call is clear and has been consistent for more than a year now,” says Kevin Peterson, founder of the New Democracy Coalition, in a statement. “Faneuil Hall insults the dignity of blacks and all Americans who believe in the civic dignity of all and who want to be availed to our nation’s full history — not half truths and prevarications.”

Needless to say, renaming the building is a pretty ambitious goal. Faneuil Hall, dubbed the “Cradle of Liberty” for its role leading up to the Revolution, is one of the most important historic sites in country, and remains a top tourist attraction. Any such change would need also need the blessing of the Boston Landmarks Commission, which is known to resist even small changes to or impacts on Boston’s historic sites. Remember, Yawkey Way had only been so named since 1977 and reverting it to its original name, Jersey Street, was a long and contentious process. The move also does not appear to have support from Mayor Marty Walsh. “We are not going to change the name of Faneuil Hall,” he said on Boston Public Radio last year.

If activists did manage to pull this off, what would we call it instead? The NDC has endorsed naming the building after Crispus Attucks, a black man who famously died in the Boston Massacre. “Crispus Attucks Hall would be an apt name replacing Faneuil Hall because Attucks was a more significant historical figure related to the birth of American democracy,” the group wrote on Facebook. “On the other hand Peter Faneuil sold a slave boy for funds to build Faneuil Hall. Peter Faneuil may have otherwise been a good man, but he does not deserve a civic edifice in his name. Let’s change the name.”