The city of Boston was recently confronted with an opportunity to clear the racially toxic air that hovers over Faneuil Hall and its adjacent Market Place in Boston. What did the city do? It punted.
Earlier this month, the city cashed a 2.1 million check from the New York-based Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation. The corporation was two years late on its annual payment in-lieu-of-taxes agreement. The city had threatened to break the lease. Instead, they pressured the company and took the money.
Given the symbolic shame that Faneuil Hall brings to the city, there certainly was an opportunity to do more. Faneuil Hall is notorious for its lack of black-owned businesses. Boston Mayor Walsh’s administration should have renegotiated with the New York leasing group in the interest of following a multi-racial group of organizers who are pressing for re-memorializing the publicly owned space.
For years local activists have been urging Mayor Walsh to consider renaming Faneuil Hall because of its odious connection to the African slave trade. Peter Faneuil, for whom the iconic downtown site is named, owned human chattel and amassed much of his great wealth through the trans-Atlantic slave trade and related industries. Walsh has adamantly rejected the idea of a name change, despite similar movements across the nation which are seeking to reassess the meaning of monuments that celebrate people and ideas that embrace racial hierarchy.
Faneuil Hall (protesters recently renamed it Slave Traders Hall) was the site where thousands of enslaved blacks landed — where they were sold at nearby Merchants Row or from barstools at local taverns. Today Faneuil Hall also represents a place where soft economic apartheid is practiced: Of 141 businesses at Faneuil Hall, none were owned by African Americans, according to an informal New Democracy Coalition survey in 2018.
At-Large Boston City Councillor Julia Mejia recently called for a public hearing to examine the lack of economic inclusion at Faneuil Hall. In her city council hearing order, Mejia said: “Reckoning with Boston’s economic barriers for entrepreneurs of color means reckoning with the symbolism of the institutions they are trying to emerge into…In some of Boston’s most famous and storied commercial centers, like [the] … Faneuil Hall Marketplace, there is an opportunity to look into ways to make … commercial centers more accessible to entrepreneurs of color.”
Given the symbolic shame that Faneuil Hall brings to the city there was an opportunity to do more. Boston Mayor Walsh’s administration should have cut ties with the New York leasing group in the interest of re-memorializing the publicly owned space.
While the overall goal of Boston activists remain focused upon renaming Faneuil Hall they say Councillor Mejia is headed in the right direction. The Ashkenazy Corporation and the City of Boston has allowed racial discrimination to flourish at Faneuil Hall. They must both be held responsible for its current racial problems and finding solutions.
In the aftermath of the forthcoming Boston City Council hearing, new policies must be put in place that assure racial justice at Faneuil Hall. Those policies should include, but not be limited to the following:
· An economic diversity plan for communities of color at Faneuil Hall that ensures that businesses of color are represented in proportion to the city’s population.
· That a new lease be articulated that raises the rent obligation from paltry $10 a year to a rate that is consistent with the local market rental prices.
· That revenues from a newly constructed leasing agreement be channeled into a Race and Reconciliation Fund at a $5 million per year for 50 years for the purposes of public education at Faneuil Hall and within the Boston Public Schools.
· The financing of a monument at Faneuil Hall that reflects the design choices of an independent, racially diverse committee, unconnected to city hall.
These policy implementations would represent the least Mayor Marty Walsh can commit himself in the interest of restorative justice at Faneuil Hall and the larger Boston community.
This summer, during the uproar related to the police murder of George Floyd, Mayor Walsh committed himself to making Boston a national “leader” around race relations. It was his attempt to highlight racial disparity as requiring policy innovation. Organizers complain that they have yet to see any substantive fruit from that enormous promise.
Changing the name of Faneuil Hall as a way of engaging the city in dialogue leading to racial repair and reconciliation is a task the city can undertake with bold leadership and clear vision. Addressing the lack of entrepreneurial opportunities at the Faneuil Hall Market Place is an important step to take for the city and the nation.