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August 12, 2022

One of Boston’s biggest attractions is named for former slave owner Peter Faneuil. There’s been a debate over whether the collection of shops and restaurants should be renamed.


Faneuil Hall is one of Boston’s most famous landmarks. Activists and ministers want to rename it. Cristela Guerra from member station WBUR reports.

CRISTELA GUERRA, BYLINE: Reverend Kevin Peterson sees the fight to change the name of Faneuil Hall as a spiritual one.

KEVIN PETERSON: On a certain level, racism is a spiritual crisis represented in our nation.

GUERRA: Over the years, he and other activists have fasted about it. They’ve prayed about it. They’ve certainly meditated on it. And on Wednesday, they sang about it, riffing off the Destiny’s Child classic “Say My Name.”

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Singing) Change the name. Change the name.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Change the name. Change the name.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Singing) Change everything about it. We can do without it.

GUERRA: Peterson and dozens of others gathered in front of Boston City Hall to once again demand the name change because Peter Faneuil was a known enslaver. He amassed his fortune in part by trafficking and selling human beings. Samuel Pierce from nearby Dorchester supports changing the name.

SAMUEL PIERCE: Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley often said that the people closest to the pain should be closest to the power. To me, that translates into making sure that the government does not have buildings, streets or anything that it’s responsible for named after slavery or oppressive people.

GUERRA: Before going upstairs, Pastor Valerie Copeland led a prayer.

VALERIE COPELAND: We mourn the countless hearts that were broken as human beings removed from their African homeland faced life of perpetual enslavement in a strange and hostile land. Those of us who are descendants continue to know that hostility and the denial of full citizenship.

GUERRA: Their song soon echoed through the lobby of City Hall.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom

GUERRA: They silently filed into the council chamber’s room without their signs, but in shirts that read, changed the name. Boycott Faneuil Hall, slave trader’s hall. Then after several minutes, they left.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Change the name.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Change the name.

GUERRA: From there, they filed through Faneuil Hall, making speeches and chanting before doing a sit-in at Quincy Market in the midst of the lunch-hour rush. Tourists shopping and eating took notice. Some, like a group of teenagers visiting from Maine, said the solution seemed obvious.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Why not change it? Why would you keep the name if that’s the case?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Yeah. Before I came here, I didn’t know the backstory on it, but now I do. And, yeah, definitely should be changed.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: It’s giving very oppressive…

GUERRA: But others, including Cregg Paul and his family from Buffalo, felt like the name change wouldn’t actually do much.

CREGG PAUL: Why? I would say, why?

GUERRA: They’re saying it’s because he sold people.

PAUL: I’m pretty sure he’s dead now, right?


PAUL: Yeah. He isn’t buying any people right now, is he? So what’s the difference? It’s history.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: You can’t erase history.

PAUL: If you don’t like it, then I don’t know what to tell you.

GUERRA: The hall sits in the middle of downtown Boston and sees millions of visitors a year. Reverend Peterson says they expect to see legislation filed soon to address the name change. In this way, he says, they change the narrative in the city. By changing the narrative, they change the future.

For NPR News, I’m Cristela Guerra in Boston.


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