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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College's student newspaper

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College's student newspaper

The Berkeley Beacon

City Council calls for the renaming of Faneuil Hall to denounce anti-Black symbols in Boston

Photo: Christopher Catubig
Boston City Counselor Tania Fernandes Anderson poses with #CHANGETHENAME supporters after a successful 10-3 vote on the proposed resolution at Boston City Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023.

The Boston City Council approved a resolution addressing anti-Black symbols in Boston, regarding the name change of the historic Faneuil Hall, named after Peter Faneuil, a slave owner and trader. 

The resolution was proposed by Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson and resulted in a 10-3 vote. While the approval of the resolution shows that the council is in favor of the name change and will garner larger public support, it is unclear when or even if the name will be changed as the council does not have the authority to make such changes. Instead, the official decision is up to the Public Facilities Commission.

While the vote went through with a majority, three councilors voted against the resolution: Councilor Frank Baker, Councilor Micheal Flaherty, and Council President Ed Flynn. Baker stated that the resolution was flawed since the council does not have the authority to change the name, and that it was disrespectful to history, particularly because there is no new official name proposed.

“Changing the name, taking Peter Faneuil’s name off Faneuil Hall will not tell the story,” Baker said. “It’s ambiguous at best… we don’t know what the name is gonna be.” 

In contrast, Fernandes Anderson believes “anti-Black symbols reflect and remain hostile to the idea and ideal of achieving Black equality in Boston.”

“Symbols are extremely important because as we look at them, we are told that we are less than because racist, slave traders, rapists, looters, disgusting savages actually get to be honored with a name,” Fernandes Anderson continued. “Changing the name Faneuil Hall would not erase history, but enhance our sense of history and place history in its proper perspective.”

A large group of supporters of the resolution came to show support. Among them were members of the New Democracy Coalition, as well as nonmembers who came to show solidarity with the group.

Supporters of the Faneuil Hall name change wear “#CHANGETHENAME” shirts at Boston City Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023. (Christopher Catubig for The Beacon)

Valerie Copeland was among such supporters and has been advocating for the name change for the past three years, having been brought into the cause by the coalition’s founder, Rev. Kevin Peterson. Copeland was encouraged by the outcome and cited the current council’s increased diversity as a reason for the resolution going through.

“It says representation matters; who we elect will fight for us and represent us,” Copeland said. “I could not have imagined this happening with a city council we had 20, 30 years ago.”

The resolution follows past moves regarding a larger call to action for Boston to recognize and provide reparations for the Black community due to the city’s involvement in the slave trade. In past meetings, a resolution was unanimously voted in favor of by the council, which asked the city to publicly apologize for its part in the slave trade. 

The former resolution later led to the creation of a reparation task force. The task force is currently in the process of putting out a request for proposal (RFP) and, eventually, a study on the legacy of the slave trade and what reparations should look like in Boston.

“We talk about the symbolism of naming things after people who were destroyers of humanity and traffickers,” Copeland said. “We are constantly reinforcing the idea that people who look like those who were formerly enslaved, their plight should continue to be ignored.”

Faneuil Hall, in particular, is a stop on the Freedom Trail, Copeland noted, questioning exactly “whose freedom are we talking about.” 

“I am a descendant of the African Americans who were brought there enslaved,” Copeland said. “And it was my people who were sold for him to have the money to be a benefactor. So I kind of feel like I own the building. And I have a right to name it.”

Baker advocated for a larger discussion to be had on the issue—not just for a resolution to be passed and not spoken of again.

Some proposed name changes that were briefly mentioned in the meeting include Frederick Douglass, a former enslaved person who became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, and Elizabeth Freeman, who was the first enslaved African American to file and win a freedom suit in Massachusetts. Or alternatively to something that represents a broader idea, such as “liberty” or “freedom” hall. 

The next steps will be to have an official proposal be delivered to the Public Facilities Commission concerning the name change, as of now this has not gone through.

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Iselin Bratz, Staff Writer

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