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Artist pulls out of Faneuil Hall slave memorial project after NAACP announces opposition

The proposed memorial has been criticized by those who would prefer that the name of Faneuil Hall, whose namesake Peter Faneuil was a slave trader, be changed.
The proposed memorial has been criticized by those who would prefer that the name of Faneuil Hall, whose namesake Peter Faneuil was a slave trader, be changed.(John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File 2008)

Local artist Steve Locke announced Tuesday that he’s canceling a planned memorial to the slave auctions that took place outside Boston’s Faneuil Hall in the face of opposition from the city’s chapter of the NAACP.

The proposed memorial has also been criticized by those who would prefer that the name of Faneuil Hall, whose namesake Peter Faneuil was a slave trader, be changed.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh has opposed the name change but publicly expressed support for Locke’s memorial. The city also dedicated $150,000 from its arts fund to the piece outside Faneuil Hall.

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However, on Tuesday, Locke wrote on a fund-raising page that the project would not be going forward.

“This stance by the Boston Branch of the NAACP puts [Walsh] in an untenable position as he cannot discount their opposition,” Locke wrote on his Kickstarter page, which had already raised more than $45,000 for the memorial. “Placing his support in jeopardy destabilizes the entire project, and without the support of the mayor’s office, the project will not have access to the site in front of Faneuil Hall.”

Locke said he did not hear from the mayor directly, but he’d heard from two city officials who wanted to “try to get me to try to work to keep the project alive.” The two officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment .

“I thought Steve’s proposal was thoughtful and an important telling of a history that must have more visibility,” Walsh told the Globe. “I was hopeful that a public process would have allowed Steve to provide that context.”

Locke said that he has no idea why the NAACP would oppose his project, which would have included a 10-feet-by-16-feet bronze installation designed to suggest an auction block and featuring a map of the slave trade.

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“I don’t know why they object to it,” Locke said. “I’m a black artist making a memorial about enslaved black people to honor their sacrifice. And yet they oppose that.”

Boston NAACP president Tanisha Sullivan said she objected to the memorial because she didn’t think the community had been given enough of a voice in the selection of the location and proposal.

“Our history in this city with race is so tender that how we enter into these types of conversations really matters,” Sullivan said. “Because there’s so much emotion and so much pain, quite frankly, around issues of race and racism, we have to be intentional about who we include in these conversations and how they are included.”

Sullivan wasn’t explicit about the reason for the group’s opposition in a Monday e-mail that Locke posted on a Kickstarter page for the project.

“I want to be clear that the work we do every day through the NAACP Boston Branch is centered on uplifting and advancing communities of color, with a focus on the black community in the city of Boston,” Sullivan wrote to Locke, according to the screenshot of the e-mail he shared online. “It is for that reason that we object to the installation of a slave auction block memorial in front of Faneuil Hall and have made these objections known.”

The nonprofit New Democracy Coalition, which has been fighting for a name change for Faneuil Hall, has also voiced opposition and has accused the planned memorial of being proposed by Walsh as an “apparent political response to protesters pushing for the Faneuil Hall name change.”

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Locke said his art project “had nothing to do with” the fight to change Faneuil Hall’s name.

He said he’s already heard from other cities interested in hosting the slave trade memorial, and he doesn’t fault those who want to withdraw their financial support from Kickstarter.

“This city has broken my heart for the last time,” said Locke, who said he’s taking a job at New York City’s Pratt Institute in September. “I’m putting my house on the market and getting the hell out of here.”


Kellen Browning can be reached at kellen.browning@globe.com, or on Twitter @kellen_browning.