Artist withdraws slave memorial project after NAACP objects

  • FILE - In this Feb. 22, 2007 file photo, people walk past Faneuil Hall, right, one of the sites on Boston's Freedom Trail in Boston. Black artist Steve Locke said Tuesday, July 16, 2019, that he's withdrawing his proposal for a slave memorial in front of Faneuil Hall after the NAACP objected. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File) Michael Dwyer

Associated Press
Published: 7/17/2019 11:18:36 PM

BOSTON — A black artist has dropped his bid to build a slave memorial in front of Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall after the NAACP objected.

Steve Locke announced Tuesday on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter that he won’t go forward with the project because the president of the Boston chapter of the prominent civil rights group warned him they would come out strongly against it.

Locke had raised more than $45,000 and received another $150,000 in conditional city funding to develop the bronze installation, which would have resembled a slave auction block and included a map of the slave trade.

“This stance by the Boston Branch of the NAACP puts the Mayor in an untenable position as he cannot discount their opposition,” wrote Locke, who was the city’s annual artist-in-residence last year.

“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.”

NAACP Boston President Tanisha Sullivan said in an email Wednesday that there needed to be more discussion about the memorial’s location and design before a proposal was presented to residents.

She pointed to the selection of the forthcoming memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King on the Boston Common. That process included soliciting proposals from a number of artists and hosting a series of public meetings.

“Our primary concern at this point is the lack of inclusion, especially inclusion of the Black American community whose ancestors any memorial of this type seeks to honor,” she said of the slave memorial proposal. “If we are to own our past and commit to moving forward, we must do so together.”

Democratic Mayor Marty Walsh, who had publicly supported the Faneuil Hall project, said Wednesday he’d hoped Locke would have the chance to explain his vision during coming public meetings. A City Hall hearing slated for next week was canceled Wednesday.

“I thought Steve’s proposal was thoughtful and an important telling of a history that must have more visibility,” he said in a statement.

Locke, who is taking a post at the Pratt Institute in New York in the fall, said he hopes to find a new site for his project. He said it has drawn interest from supporters in Salem, from Newport and Providence in Rhode Island, and New York City.

“Am I not Black? Am I not part of the black community in Boston? I won’t lie, it’s been a terrible few days. I am extremely disappointed that the NAACP chose to oppose my project before the public hearing set in just a few days on July 23, eschewing the public process,” he said in an email. “But knowing that so many people still support the vision and the work, even after this, is really inspiring.”

Kevin Peterson, founder of the New Democracy Coalition that had also opposed the memorial, praised Locke as a “brilliant artist” but said the project was “poorly timed and awkwardly presented.”

“Nothing short of a serious conversation about race is needed,” he said. “Locke was wise and brave to pull out of the project.”

The New Democracy Coalition had accused Walsh of pushing the memorial as a way to mollify calls for changing the name of Faneuil Hall outright.

The brick landmark was built in 1742 by Peter Faneuil, a wealthy slave trader, as a gift to the fledging city.




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