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Beating a dead horse

Melvin B. Miller

There has been a long-standing opposition to slavery in Boston. In fact, Massachusetts was the first state of the union to render slavery unlawful. The human rights of freedom and equality were established in 1783 in the Massachusetts Constitution. That was four years before the approval of the U.S. Constitution and 82 years before the ratification of its 13th Amendment that decreed slavery to be unlawful throughout the republic. It is a bit late to be concerned about Peter Faneuil’s involvement in the slave trade.

The 1790 U.S. Census indicated that there were no slaves who were residents of Massachusetts. However, the absence of slavery did not indicate there was no racial discrimination. Boston was a significant port of entry into the U.S. in the 19th century and immigrants of different nationalities and religions came to Boston in search of a better life. As might be expected, some conflicts developed between these groups.

Nonetheless, Boston had become the national headquarters of efforts to end slavery, and after Emancipation in 1865, Boston became the multiracial center for the pursuit of civil rights.

Robert Morris became the first black lawyer in America in 1847, and many Irish immigrants were his clients. Moorfield Storey, a Roxbury descendant of the Pilgrims, Harvard alumnus and lawyer became a founder and first president of the NAACP in 1910.

Despite many examples of racial comity, the competition for progress and status provoked conflict between Boston’s ethnic tribes. The small size of the black population placed them at a political disadvantage. In 1940, blacks were only 3.1 percent of Boston’s population.

Blacks in Boston had to struggle to flourish but it is absurd to assert that black life in Boston is “nasty, brutish and short” because it is “steeped in the legacy of slavery” that became unlawful 235 years ago. It is embarrassing and insulting to suggest that blacks have been unable to overcome the admittedly debilitating practice of slavery after 235 years.

For many generations Boston has fostered prominent blacks. Their stories should be retold to inspire today’s youth. The repeated story that Peter Faneuil sold slaves does little more than remind black youth of their tribe’s earlier subservience.

Mayor Marty Walsh should not submit to those ill-advised requests to consider changing the name of historic Faneuil Hall. Such hearings would potentially be harmful to the development of sound race relations in Boston.

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