A crowd gathered outside of Faneuil Hall, the evening before the holiday, to pay tribute to the civil rights activist.
Faith leaders and artists came together on January 17 to honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, on the eve before the national day of commemoration. The celebration was held by The New Democracy Coalition outside of Faneuil Hall. Speakers reflected on King’s memory and also on the state of the country, addressing systemic racism and the assault on the Capitol on January 6.
Reverend Steve Neville referenced King’s allusion to Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” stating that people have been asleep for too long and are awakening to a fractured reality. He described the confusion many felt upon discovering the invasion of “the most secure building in the world.”
“Like Rip Van Winkle, we have slipped into a drowsy confusion, with regard to the world to which we have awakened,” said Neville. “Dr. King’s sermon admonished us to stay awake, to not ever be lulled to sleep.” Regarding the 2016 election, he added, “Too many of us didn’t vote. We fell asleep. And we have found ourselves lost and disoriented, like Rip Van Winkle.”
Kevin Peterson, the founder and director of The New Democracy Coalition, addressed the uncertainty that the nation is experiencing today.
“Trouble is in the land,” said Peterson. “The COVID-19 virus has snatched the lives of nearly 400,000 Americans, destroying the bonds and relations within families. 10 million have lost their jobs, during the pandemic. 8 million have slipped into poverty. The so-called ‘temple to democracy’ is raided in our nation’s capitol. A president is impeached for a second time. There is trouble in the land.”
Reverend Jacob Urena spoke to the idea of renaming Faneuil Hall as “Freedom Hall,” a step towards dismantling the legacy of racism embodied in the celebration of Peter Faneuil, who benefitted from the slave trade. The New Democracy Coalition has also been active in launching a project to have the building renamed.
“Justice and peace are two sides of the same coin,” said Urena. “If we want peace, we need justice.”
Shira Laucharoen is a reporter based in Boston. She currently serves as the assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. In the past she has written for Sampan newspaper, The Somerville Times, Scout Magazine, Boston Magazine, and WBUR.