Letter to the Editor— Faneuil Hall: It's time to change the name

To the Editor:

Some may ask: Why, amid a lethal pandemic, a racial revolution, economic insecurity, and the horrific realization that normal may never be normal again, would the removal of the name Faneuil Hall from a public building be so crucial to Bostonians moving forward as one?

Well, it would rebuke, in part, Boston’s perceived legacy of racial and gender inequity. It would say to people of color in this city, whose ties to slavery, from the wrong end of it, need due process, what the poet Gill Scott Heron describes it as saying, “They call it due process, and some people are overdue.”

It would not close the economic disparities among races, nor will it desegregate the schools or the numerous neighborhoods that have become gateless gated communities. However, it would signal to our visitors, students, nation, and beyond that Boston is evolving.

While the city’s elected officials have been reticent, even fearful, of open debate, organizations such as The New Democracy Coalition along with civic and religious leaders, and even Bostonians who are direct descendants of slaves, have pressed the issue to the point where the world is watching. In three years, the notion of removing the name of Faneuil from a public building in Boston has gone from ridiculous to plausible. 

Peter Faneuil, an 18th-century Boston merchant, obtained his wealth from inheritance and his participation in the commodities markets.  Included in those commodities were human beings. Active in the slave trade until his death in 1742, Faneuil also owned five human beings, making him “the worst of the worst.”

Today, Confederate monuments, symbols of traitors to the United States, are rapidly coming down; even our military seeks their removal.

“There is a difference in the remembrance of history and the reverence of it,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans in his 2017 address on the removal of Confederate monuments from public property.  His political foresight and courage helped propel a movement throughout the southern states, and consequently across the rest of the country.

Mayor Walsh similarly used his political capital to change Yawkey Street back to Jersey Street, due to Thomas Yawkey’s obstinate bigotry.  This writer believes that the name should have been changed to Yawkey Foundation Way, recognizing the road to redemption followed by the Yawkey family, a road Peter Faneuil never traveled and never will.

The mayor has invoked the Landmark Commission’s powers to change the name of Dudley Square to Nubian Square (another slaving civilization) and the removal of a white supremacy statue from Park Square depicting a slave kneeling at the feet of President Abraham Lincoln.

If the mayor intends to right the wrongs of the past, why stop short? On the one hand, his hesitancy to return the damaged Christopher Columbus statue in the North End until the city could assess its historical meaning, and on the other, his refusal to do the same for Faneuil Hall.

Th Columbus matter was done without a public hearing.  Within a matter of days, the city determined that the statue passed the moral smell test and should remain, an apparent slight to the Indigenous and progressive people in our city who seek change and respect for a diversity of views and its citizenry’s heritage.

The Walsh administration’s persistent problem of rhetoric not adding up to policies can be mitigated to some degree by a willingness to change on this and other issues. Not doing so is unbecoming of a “progressive city “and a “progressive” mayor.

The City Council has rendered itself irrelevant on this issue, even while under the tutelage of two African-American council presidents.  It is time for them to assert political and moral leadership, compassion, and reverence to the history we now know to be true.

Some astute political thinkers of many backgrounds believe the window of opportunity for change is now.  Faneuil Hall no longer represents who we are as a city. The mayor and the Landmark Commission are due gratitude for the changes they have made. Tiny steps are good; bigger steps are better. 

Barry Lawton