It’s no secret that Boston has a longstanding reputation for being one of the United States’ most racist cities. A 2017 Globe study found that a whopping 54% of Black residents considered Boston to be the most unwelcoming city for people of color. Because many perceive Massachusetts as an extremely liberal state, they tend to forget that Boston has a twisted history with slavery and discrimination against Black people—centuries ago, up through today.
Strolling through Boston, few realize that just outside of Faneuil Hall, slaves were auctioned off. After all, the building was named after Peter Faneuil, a prominent merchant and slave trader.
Harvard University just recently faced its ties to slavery, including faculty and staff members enslaving more than 70 individuals to serve in their on-campus houses. The Harvard Corporation additionally invested in Caribbean planters and American textile mills that functioned off of slave labor.
Western Washington University professor Jared Ross Hardesty estimates that at the peak of the city's slavery in the mid-1700s, over 1,600 Africans were enslaved in Boston. Although Massachusetts abolished slavery in 1783, Boston still participated in the practice for decades to follow.
Centuries after slavery in the United States has been eradicated, Boston is still known to be a hostile city that voices micro-aggressions and discriminates against Black people. Several incidents have occurred at Fenway Park in recent years, including fans hurling racist slurs at former outfielder Torii Hunter, and Black staff members reporting poor treatment.
Beyond racist sports fans, Boston has statistically proven to be a segregated city. Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team found that new, wealthy neighborhoods are predominantly white. They also found great health care disparities: Just 5% of patients at the accredited Mass. General Hospital are Black, compared to 40% of patients at the less-renowned Boston Medical Center. The team also uncovered the disturbing fact that while the median net worth for white households is slightly under $250,000, the median net worth for non-immigrant, African American households is a mere $8.
All of this being said, it’s about time that Boston does something to address its racist past, other than just offering a largely symbolic formal apology for the city’s involvement with the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
On February 7, Mayor Michelle Wu named the ten individuals who will serve on the Reparations Task Force, following the 2022 City Ordinance, which was signed in mid-December. The signing amended the City of Boston Ordinances by adding a new section and subsection, which designate a task force to formulate reparations proposals for African Americans in Boston. Task members will conduct historical research and advise and support the provision of reparations to descendants of formerly enslaved Black people.
Wu’s plan will take place in three phases. Phase one, which will be completed no later than June 30, 2023, includes research and a report from the task force on the historical relationship of Boston’s tie with the African slave trade and the institution of slavery. Phase two, which is set to finish around December 31, 2023, aims to assess Boston’s actions to date in addressing the continued impacts of enslavement. The final phase, set to be completed on June 30, 2024, involves the task force making final recommendations to the city on matters of truth, reconciliation, and reparations.
Specifically, the final report will include an analysis of Boston’s supportive role in the institution of slavery, forms of public and private discrimination and racism against freed slaves and their descendants, and the systemic, lingering impacts of slavery on descendants of freed slaves living in Boston. Afterward, the task force will develop a plan for the implementation of reparations, which will begin no later than October 1, 2024.
Here’s a look at the ten individuals appointed to the Task Force on Reparations:
Joseph D. Feaster Jr.: Chair of the Task Force on Reparations. Feaster is an attorney who has served as the court-appointed Receiver for the Roxbury Comprehensive Community Health Center. Feaster additionally served as president of the Boston chapter of the NAACP and is a current member of Boston’s Black Men and Boys Commission.
Denilson Fanfan: a current junior enrolled at Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Dorchester, MA.
L’Merchie Frazier: a public historian, visual activist, educator, artist, and executive director of creative and strategic partnerships for SPOKE Art, which uses the transformative power of art to foster community and social progress.
George “Chip” Greenidge, Jr.: founder and director of Greatest MINDS, a non-profit organization providing mentorship, volunteer, and participation opportunities for college students and young professionals.
Dr. Kerri Greenidge: Tufts University Assistant Professor in the Department of Studies of Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora. Author of The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in An American Family and Black Radical.
Dr. David Harris: former managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, a program using membership and participation to foster community justice.
Dorothea Jones: a member of the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee, a group dedicated to guiding change and economic growth in Roxbury.
Carrie Mays: a current UMass Boston student and youth leader of Teen Empowerment, a program based on youth-led initiatives to engage youth and adults in the betterment of their communities.
Na’Tisha Mills: program manager at Embrace Boston, a group dedicated to dismantling structural racism through cultural representations, institutional practices, and public policies.
Damani Williams: a current junior at Jeremiah E. Burke High School.
In the coming weeks, the task force will begin accepting bids for research partners to investigate the history of slavery in Boston as well as the influences of slavery on current Boston residents. While reparations will never bring back the atrocities faced by enslaved people, it is a step toward restorative justice.