The Boston City Council overwhelmingly backed renaming Fanueil Hall Wednesday as a way of reckoning with the city’s history of racism and involvement with the transatlantic slave trade.
The vote, on a resolution proposed by District 7 Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson, was 10–3. The dissenters were District 5 Councilor Frank Baker, Council President Ed Flynn, and At-Large Councilor Michael Flaherty.
Before the vote, Fernandes Anderson read out the full text of her resolution, which describes Peter Fanueil, who funded the building’s construction as a gift to Boston, as “a white supremacist, a slave trader, and a slave owner who contributed nothing recognizable to the ideal of democracy.”
Renaming one of Boston’s best-known and most heavily trafficked tourist attractions would send a powerful message about the present as well as the past, Fernandes Anderson said.
“I still find myself in arguments with people to justify why I am human, or why my Black sons ... should not go to prison, should have an opportunity,” Fernandes Anderson said. “I still have to explain that systemic racism is a reality in the city of Boston.
“Symbols are extremely important,” she added. “Because as we look at them, we then understand and internalize, and we become our environment. We viscerally continue to propel trauma and we continue to believe that we are less than ... because racist slave traders, rapist looters, disgusting savages actually get to be honored with a name.”
The only councilor to speak against the proposal was Baker, who is one of the council’s more reliably conservative voices and is not seeking reelection.
Baker noted that, in 2019, he’d backed a proposal to create a memorial at Faneuil Hall that would have highlighted links between Faneuil and slavery and emphasized that enslaved people were trafficked near the building’s current site.
That proposal, which was backed by then-Mayor Marty Walsh, was withdrawn after Tanisha Sullivan, the head of the Boston branch of the NAACP, objected to the process that had generated it.
“Taking Peter Faneuil’s name off Faneuil Hall will still not tell [that] story,” Baker said, adding that voting to jettison the current name before settling on a new one would be premature.
Anderson countered that the council should facilitate the selection of a new name rather than unilaterally choosing it.
“It will go into a community process and let the community decide, and that is how we do things in the city,” she said.
Anderson’s resolution also frames the renaming of Faneuil Hall as the beginning of a broader process in which anti-Black symbols in Boston are reassessed.
Prior to the vote, District 5 Councilor Ricardo Arroyo backed that approach and suggested that East Boston’s Maverick Square is ripe for renaming as well.
“Samuel Maverick … many historians believe was the first individual to transport enslaved people into Boston, was documented as someone who would have his enslaved folks rape each other to do breeding,” Arroyo said.
“Folks like that should not have landmarks or locations named after them,” he added. “They should not become regular parts of our lexicon.”
Today’s council vote does not guarantee that Faneuil Hall will be renamed. A spokesperson for Mayor Michelle Wu said authority to change the name rests with the city’s Public Facilities Commission.
Still, Wednesday's vote is a major victory for supporters who've pushed for a name change for years, including Boston's New Democracy Coalition.
Before the vote, Wu touted Boston’s ongoing efforts to reckon fully with its history, including the city’s reparations task force. But she did not directly answer when asked if she supports changing Faneuil Hall’s name.
“There are different perspectives in community,” Wu said. “Faneuil Hall is known around the world as the seat of liberty, and it is the place where so many of the early abolitionist conversations took place. And when you speak with different figures who are really immersed in history in Boston, there are mixed views about what should happen.
“We will continue to encourage those conversations and work with our community members, and recognize the unique history that this building held, separate from the name that was attached to it,” the mayor added.