Boston City Council Eyeing Name Changes In Connection With Slavery

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Boston city councilors are criticizing the city’s historical connection to slavery and looking at possible name changes because of it.

“The political and economy power brokers of Boston have a lot to apologize for and I say now is a good time to do so,” said city councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson at a City Council meeting on Wednesday, June 15. 

At that meeting, a resolution (discussed from 1:10:00-1:38:49) was voted on by the Boston city council that “denounces the historical practices of slavery aided and abetted by the city government of Boston; and expresses its deepest and most sincere apology for the city’s connection and responsibility in the transatlantic slave trade.”

Anderson sponsored the resolution.

“I offer this because I think that it’s imperative that we apologize for the heinous historical criminality of slavery in its modern-day manifestations,” Anderson told her colleagues.

“The legacy of this dastardly crime manifests today in generational trauma and in various disparities in realm of politics, economics, and social indicators,” she added.

Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune, who joined Anderson in sponsoring the resolution, also discussed the need to address current disparities caused by slavery.

“When we think about our city and the wealth of our city, which I talk about quite often, that wealth is really built on the back of blacks in this city and around the country,” Louijeune said.

The resolution includes “a pledge of removing prominent anti-Black symbols in Boston while developing opportunities to build structures that reflect racial repair and reconciliation.”

NewBostonPost asked the original sponsors of the resolution by email what they considered “anti-Black symbols in Boston.”

Councilor Anderson replied that she considered “anti-Black symbols” to be “any street names, school names, names of centers or squares, or statues and monuments that are named after those who possessed enslaved Africans or who directly benefited, politically and economically, from the slave trade and the ideology of white supremacy that supported and sustained it.” 

Supporters of the resolution say that Faneuil Hall is an example of an “anti-Black symbol.” Reverend Kevin Peterson, who has repeatedly called for changing the name of Faneuil Hall, and has been called “instrumental” in the passing of the resolution, said that “Faneuil Hall is the main target” of the pledge to remove “anti-Black symbols.” In June 2020, Peterson started a hunger strike, demanding that Faneuil Hall be renamed.

Peter Faneuil was a wealthy merchant born in 1700 and died in 1743. Faneuil at the time was widely considered a generous man, having a public marketplace (Faneuil Hall) built for the then-town of Boston free of charge in 1740. Many meetings leading up to the American Revolution — including some in response to the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Boston Massacre in 1770 — took place in Faneuil Hall, which is why it is known as the Cradle of Liberty.

Today Faneuil Hall is one of the most visited and recognizable landmarks in Boston.

Peter Faneuil’s riches grew partly from the “triangle trade.” This trade involved sending ships from Boston to Africa to trade goods for slaves. The slaves would then be brought to the West Indies to trade the slaves for more experienced slaves as well as rum and sugar. The skilled slaves, rum, and sugar would then be brought back to Boston. Faneuil also owned slaves.

Councilor Anderson mentioned Faneuil by name at the meeting on June 15, saying, “many famous and wealthy Bostonians of the era, including Peter Faneuil, grew rich from the buying and selling of enslaved Africans. When he died, he still owned five human beings.”

In an email message to NewBostonPost, Anderson said:  “I would say that honoring him by naming a place after him is anti-Black.” 

“There is no reason, that in 2022, we should continue to name destinations after those that owned their fellow human beings, and by their actions, acted to entrench white supremacist, settler colonialism as part of a Pan-European project that was incredibly destructive toward Africans, and by extension, their descendants,” she added.

Former Boston mayor Marty Walsh was against changing the name of Faneuil Hall. The current mayor of Boston, Michelle Wu hasn’t endorsed the idea but has sounded open to it.

Anderson mentioned on June 15 that white people have approached her and said they don’t see the need to apologize for slavery since they did not participate in it.

“I recognize that there are poor white families or individuals that feel that they are not responsible because they don’t have the privilege of their white brothers and sisters that do have money or wealth. And so, this is not necessarily to target one individual. And I believe that as a black woman I shouldn’t have to stand here and apologize and educate. The burden shouldn’t be on me to educate, but it is incumbent on me if I have this knowledge or information that I am patient and graceful with my white brothers and sisters,” Anderson said.

Not all councilors who voted for the resolution sounded comfortable with it. Councilor Frank Baker told his colleagues that he was ready to acknowledge and condemn the city’s past actions, but he was a “little uneasy” about apologizing.

“I feel so far removed from John Winthrop, Peter Faneuil, and Harvard University. I grew up a little rough and tumble; we grew up poor. So the apologize part is difficult for me,” Baker said.

“But,” Baker added, “I think if my words can help your community heal and our community in Boston heal then I’m absolutely ready to do this and sign onto this and vote for this, for you.”

Councilor Anderson thanked Baker for his willingness to support the resolution telling him that “it is this level of work and sincerity that will take us to reconciliation, will take us to healing.” 

“If you had said anything else, if you had been pretentious about it, I would have said he’s not ready. But the fact that you got up and you said this is how I feel, I will be honest with you, but in support in the effort or in the spirit of healing, if this helps, then so be it. I appreciate that, and I think that is where we start. I thank you for your open heart,” Anderson said.

Slavery was legal in Massachusetts until 1783, the same year the American Revolution ended. In 1780, Massachusetts ratified a new state constitution. Chief Justice William Cushing of the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that slavery violated the state constitution in the Quock Walker case.

Until that point, Boston merchants participated in the slave trade, some owning slaves themselves.

In the 19th century, Boston was a center in the national movement to abolish slavery. The Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper run by William Lloyd Garrison, was published in Boston from 1831 to 1839. United States presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams both opposed slavery.

At the Boston City Council meeting on June 15, several other councilors spoke in favor of the proposal. The resolution passed with a unanimous vote. After the vote was announced, people in the room applauded for thirteen seconds.


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