A Slave Memorial Has Been Proposed for Faneuil Hall

It would recognize its namesake's dark legacy of trading in slaves.

photo via istock.com/400tmax

Amid debate over what to do about Faneuil Hall and its problematic past, a memorial has been proposed for the landmark that would call attention to its namesake’s dark legacy in the slave trade.

WGBH reports the city is reviewing a proposal from Steven Locke, a professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, for a memorial that would constitute two rectangles, meant to evoke slave auction blocks, which would be heated to 98.6 degrees to mimic the body temperature of a human being.

The idea comes amid calls to drop the name “Faneuil” from the building, which have gained momentum this year amid a nationwide conversation about whether landmarks to slave owners and defenders of slavery should remain, which in this case has put Boston’s mayor at odds with activists.

In June, a group of activists and faith leaders formally called for the building to be renamed, pointing to the fact that Peter Faneuil both owned and trafficked in slaves—a business that contributed to the wealth he would eventually donate to help build it in 1742. They had suggested naming the building after Cispus Attucks, the black man famously killed in the Boston Massacre. “Our call is clear and has been consistent for more than a year now,” Kevin Peterson, founder of the New Democracy Coalition, said in a statement last month. “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.”

The renaming effort follows a successful campaign to remove the name Yawkey Way from the street outside Fenway Park, in light of Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey’s legacy of overseeing the last team in the majors to integrate. But resistance to renaming Faneuil Hall, which remains one of the nation’s best-known and most-visited historic landmarks, has been formidable. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has dismissed the idea. “We are not going to change the name of Faneuil Hall,” he said on Boston Public Radio last year.

Walsh, however, appears to embrace the idea of adding a memorial to the site. “I think there’s an opportunity with the Slave Auction Block Memorial … to actually tell us what happened at Faneuil Hall, but also tell us what happened after slavery at Faneuil Hall,” Walsh, again appearing on Boston Public Radio, said Friday.

Locke, the artist, has some experience in this realm. Another memorial designed by Locke was recently featured at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Called Three Deliberate Grays for Freddie Gray, the piece is in memory of the 25-year-old who died in the custody of Baltimore police in 2015.