A dozen religious leaders and activists delivered more than 3,000 signatures on a petition Friday morning to City Hall in support of changing the name of Faneuil Hall, the popular tourist attraction named after a merchant whose wealth was a product of the slave trade.
The group called on city officials to follow through with their commitment to address harms caused by Boston’s participation in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and make renaming racist symbols and monuments a part of that promise.
“Simply do what you said on paper,” said the Rev. Kevin C. Peterson, founder of the New Democracy Coalition, a local group that has focused on reparations and reconciliation in Boston. “Simply do what you promised as policymakers.”
Faneuil Hall is named for Peter Faneuil, a trader who gained much of his fortune through participating in the slave trade. With his wealth, he donated Faneuil Hall to the city in the early 1740s.
The tourist attraction welcomes around 20 million visitors each year, according to the National Park Service.
Mayor Michelle Wu in a statement did not address whether the city would consider renaming Faneuil Hall, but said that it’s “critical to acknowledge and address the role of slavery in our nation’s founding and the deep inequities that remain today.”
”As we continue to build on our city’s legacy of ensuring that our country lives up to its ideals, we are focused on removing barriers and expanding opportunity for all while highlighting Boston’s diverse communities across our neighborhoods,” she said.
The delivery of signatures also came on what would have been civil rights leader Malcolm X’s 98th birthday. The historical figure, who has ties to Boston, “would’ve been opposing the symbolism of Faneuil Hall and the name that’s attached to it,” Peterson said.
After convening near City Hall’s main entrance, the activists linked arms and in pursuit of City Council President Ed Flynn’s office, filled the floor with the melodies of the freedom song “Woke Up This Morning.”
“Woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom,” they belted. “Hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah.”
In a prayer before the City Council’s offices, Valerie Copeland, a pastor of Neighborhood Church of Dorchester, said that the renaming of historical buildings is just one piece of addressing the harm done to Boston’s Black residents.
Reparations are “not just financial, but it’s restoring the narrative of our people,” Copeland said. “So we say to Boston: If you are the cradle of liberty, live up to that name.”
The Rev. John Gibbons, a community minister “of good trouble” at Arlington Street Church in the Back Bay, applauded the city for its actions to address its role in slavery thus far. Last June, Boston City Council unanimously approved a resolution apologizing for its role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and passed another resolution establishing a reparations study committee in December. Wu announced the city’s 10-member reparations task force in February.
Despite such actions, Gibbons urged the city to go a step further.
“We are still shackled by the name of Faneuil, and ... we must break those chains by telling the truth about our history,” Gibbons said. “It is very late, my friends, but I pray it is not too late.”
The group also hoped to speak directly with Flynn regarding their demands, though a city clerk told Peterson he was unavailable due to an ongoing public hearing. Dissatisfied with her response, Peterson barged in and dropped off the signatures directly.
Support for a name change might go beyond its most vocal proponents, some data show. A 2021 poll conducted by the MassINC Polling Group found that 51 percent of Boston voters supported renaming the popular tourist destination, while 36 percent opposed the proposal.
Crispus Attucks, the Afro-Indigenous sailor traditionally regarded as the American Revolution’s first casualty, and Elizabeth Freeman, the first Black woman in Massachusetts to successfully sue for freedom in the state, have come up as historical figures after whom Faneuil Hall could be renamed, Peterson said. There’s also interest in renaming it “Freedom Hall.”
“We call for a hearing where people across the city of Boston will come together and agree on a separate name,” Peterson said.
The group had collected 3,128 signatures as of Friday afternoon, according to the petition’s Change.org page.
Friday’s gathering was one in a series of efforts aimed at pressuring elected officials into renaming the site. In January, four protesters were arrested at City Hall for staging a sit-in in support of the name change.
This past October, Copeland, Gibbons, and Peterson chained themselves to the hall’s doors in another push to rename the site.