He has to be seen in the context of his times
Re “Peter Faneuil: Merchant prince. Philanthropist. Slave Trader.” by Brian MacQuarrie (Page A1, Sept. 17): Thank you for your front-page article about Peter Faneuil and (of crucial significance) the socioeconomic context of the world in which he lived. That context is often excluded in the currently popular belief that, because of Faneuil’s involvement with slavery, renaming Faneuil Hall, which he had built and which he gave to Boston, and the site of a multitude of events of profound importance to Bostonian and American history, would do something to atone for that institution and therefore be justified and appropriate.
If it were, what about the name of the state of Washington and of Washington, D.C., considering that George Washington owned enslaved people? Or the name of Boston, given that the city (then still a town), as clearly portrayed in this article, was steeped in the business of slavery? Likewise, what about the name of the United States of America, which, as a country, embraced the institution, as it did many other shameful activities, during that time and since, such as the cultural genocide perpetrated on the Indigenous people and the atrocities committed centuries later in Vietnam and Cambodia?
There is an urgent need for humanity to create a more conscious, enlightened civilization on earth, and this letter does not dismiss all name changes in that regard, but I submit that the name Faneuil Hall is not among them.
Artist’s scrapped memorial has to be part of this discussion
It was disappointing to read the article “Peter Faneuil: Merchant prince. Philanthropist. Slave trader.” and see no mention of artist Steve Locke, whose work is central to the reassessment of Faneuil.
Locke designed and proposed the installation “Auction Block Memorial at Faneuil Hall.” A cursory glance through the Globe archives shows how important the artist is to a discussion of this subject, with commentary by Renée Graham (“A way to atone at Faneuil Hall,” Ideas, July 22, 2018), Adrian Walker (“Making art, not politics,” Metro, Aug. 22, 2018), and the editorial board, which wrote that Locke’s idea “could help crack the code for dealing with slavery’s legacy in modern Boston” (“Faneuil Hall’s slave legacy,” July 30, 2018).
It is difficult to understand how you could overlook such an important artist, who is so involved in this topic and has such deep ties to Boston. Locke, a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient, was a longtime professor at Massachusetts College of Art as well as an artist-in-residence for both the City of Boston and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Unfortunately, in the face of controversy and misinformation, Locke felt compelled to withdraw his proposal (“Why I withdrew my proposed slave memorial at Faneuil Hall,” Opinion, Aug. 5, 2019), a saga recounted in Jeneé Osterheldt’s commentary “It’s time to talk about ‘Auction Block’ ” (Sunday Arts, March 1, 2020).
Given all this, any discussion of Peter Faneuil’s history in Boston is incomplete without including a reference to Locke’s memorial design.
Constantine and Jennifer Teig von Hoffman
Hold naming honors to regular review — say, every 50 years?
A few quick thoughts on the perpetual name game, for Faneuil Hall and others. Why forever? Why not make naming honors renewable every 50 years? That’s a long time. Some names may last forever, others might change.
With all due respect, most people could not tell you the stories behind names on our tunnels, bridges, and public squares. For some of those names, 50 or 100 years is a great honor. Perhaps others could be refreshed. It might prevent the Faneuil problem.
Making these honors subject to review would reeducate us to our history or allow us to honor more contemporary, yet still historic, figures, including great women and people of color, who historically have been underrepresented.
Alternatively, Faneuil Hall could become Garrison Hall, for William Lloyd Garrison, or Frederick Douglass Hall, in recognition of the great abolitionists.
While we’re at it, perhaps we can swap the statue of General Joseph Hooker, now at the entrance of the State House, for the statue of President John F. Kennedy. Does Hooker really merit the honor? And “meet me at the JFK entrance” sounds a whole lot better than “meet me at the Hooker entrance.”
The writer is cofounder of the Civic Action Project.