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Peter Faneuil was a slave trader. He shouldn’t have one of Boston’s most important buildings named after him.

The name rebukes the ideal of the nation becoming a multiracial democracy.

Faneuil Hall's ugly history
WATCH: Editor-at-large Mark Morrow explains the dark history of Peter Faneuil and why there is a push to rename Faneuil Hall.

It is often said that public policy is a form of expressing moral commitments.

Such moral commitments may reflect municipal budgets or public school policy. They may focus on affordable housing or free meals for the elderly. Invariably, public policy speaks to ethical choices that seek to convey what’s important to the public or in the interest of the Commonwealth. That is the case with Faneuil Hall.

Over the last decade activists, clergy, and antiracism leaders across the nation have been engaging in public policy reform by urging reconsideration of policies related to how communities use public spaces in the interest of promoting the public good.


In 2017, former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu successfully engaged with the Bring Them Down Movement in removing Confederate monuments from public grounds. Activists and Landrieu said that the monuments sent the wrong moral message to the public about the dignity of the city’s Black residents and the need to promote racial harmony. Former Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh removed various statues from public spaces, including one of Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney because the justice once declared in the Dred Scott ruling that there was no reason for white people to respect Black people. And just last year, the Guggenheim Museum removed the name of the Sackler family from its arts and education center because of the family’s ties to the opioid crisis.

The moral resolve expressed by these public policy makers and cultural leaders should have resonance in Boston relating to its most prominent building: Faneuil Hall. But it has not.

Faneuil Hall is named after Peter Faneuil, an 18th-century owner and trader of enslaved people who prospered during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. For this reason, the name of Faneuil Hall, a publicly owned building, should be changed. It is not a matter of rewriting history nor a gesture of percolating racial retribution but of promoting the moral reorganization of our public lives that approximates justice, repair, and civic reconciliation.


Faneuil Hall is a public building, belonging to all of us. Yet the name on this otherwise famous building speaks to the profound atrocity of slavery. Moreover, the name rebukes the ideal of the nation becoming a multiracial democracy. For Black residents across the city and the nation, the name expresses the unforgiving heart of a man who considered Black human beings no part of a civil society, and who denigrated and regarded them solely as a commodity to be sold or traded.

Recently, the Boston City Council passed a symbolic resolution to change the name of Faneuil Hall. The effort was introduced by City Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson, who also championed the New Democracy Coalition’s successful efforts at securing an official apology for the city’s involvement in the slave trade, which led to the creation of the Task Force on Reparations.

Ultimately, we who want the name of Faneuil Hall changed want all Bostonians to appreciate this action as leading to greater and deeper dialogue about the city’s identity and willingness to address our tragic history in order to successfully engage in reparative actions for the future. As we approach Boston’s 400th anniversary in 2030, we should recognize the need to address issues that keep our city divided along racial lines.


The final stage of renaming Faneuil Hall is now in the hands of the Wu administration. The mayor should look to other mayors in cities across the nation who have expressed political courage as a matter of conveying morality in the public square. To do otherwise would signal our failure at exorcising the racial demons that continue to haunt us.

The Rev. Kevin C. Peterson is founder of the New Democracy Coalition and adjunct faculty at Boston University’s Center for Anti-Racist Research.