The rain and biting wind had just paused early Saturday afternoon as Kevin Peterson — standing chained and barefoot on the wet pavement outside Faneuil Hall, head bowed — was auctioned off to a slave owner for 80 pounds.
Taking part in a slave auction reenactment, Peterson was sold alongside a woman and a teenager, who all faced taunts and belittling comments from the other actors. The reenactment was a piece of a larger rally, organized by social justice organizations in an effort to speak out against racism in Boston and encourage the city to change the name of Faneuil Hall, named for Peter Faneuil, a colonial slave owner.
“I would like the community to understand that slavery was a reality in Boston, and I would like the community to connect the fact that what happened in the 1740s, in terms of the denigration of black people, continues into 2018,” Peterson, executive director of the New Democracy Coalition that co-sponsored the rally, said in an interview.
Organizers of the rally want Mayor Martin J. Walsh and the City Council to host a hearing about the request to change the building’s name. They emphasized on Saturday that they are not fighting the city’s leaders — they want a conversation.
Walsh was not at the rally, but has said instead of changing the name, he wants to acknowledge the building’s history, which has “become a place where good things have happened.”
“If we were to change the name of Faneuil Hall today, 30 years from now, no one would know why we did it. Not many people know about the history of that man,” Walsh said in a statement. “. . . We can’t erase history, but we can learn from it.”
The rally began around noon with a march around Faneuil Hall, led by a band playing songs such as “This Little Light of Mine.” It continued with about 30 speakers, who shared testimony and delivered prayers.
Though the speakers had different priorities, one message rang clear: Faneuil Hall is not their only concern.
Over the nearly two-hour rally, people shared concerns about wage disparity, crime rates, unequal educational systems, lacking quality health care, and other issues they feel impact Boston’s black community today.
Visitors to Faneuil Hall stood alongside activists with at least 40 people watching at the beginning of the rally.
In Saturday’s reenactment, 14-year-old Avante Dabney, from Dorchester, portrayed a slave donated by Faneuil.
Avante said it was sad that kids his own age “had to go through that.”
After the scene concluded, Celestina Crenshaw, of Mattapan, who also portrayed a slave, walked inside Faneuil Hall and cried.
“I know about what happened, but when I was out there, I thought about my ancestors and how they probably felt standing there, knowing that they’d never see their families again or their children again and not knowing what was going to happen, what terror was going to come next,” she said.
Phoebe Minias, of Milton, said as a white woman, she felt a duty to attend the rally and take action.
“I just feel like it’s actually white people’s work, not black people’s work,” she said, “so I feel like it’s important to show up and do something.”Felicia Gans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.