A historic Boston community center named after Harriet Tubman is being forced to relocate as part of a multi-million dollar deal that would turn the beloved building into a swanky mixed-use development.
Local Black residents are furious over the move, however, and say the sale is a symptomatic of the gentrification taking root in many of Boston’s Black communities.
The Harriet Tubman House, located in the city’s South End neighborhood, has been long owned by the nonprofit United South End Settlements, or USES and houses a number of community organizations aimed at helping Boston’s underserved population. According to HuffPost, the community center has provided invaluable resources and access to affordable housing resources and child care, job training and GED classes.
Now residents will be forced to go to a new facility a half-mile away after USES agreed to sell the building to developer New Boston Ventures last year. Early reports alleged the space would be torn down, but instead, developers said the space will be converted to a six-story development replete with 66 condominiums, a cafe, art gallery, 5,000 square feet of commercial space and an street-level office for USES.
Roughly 11 condos in the new building will be reserved for “affordable homeownership,” and below-ground parking is also included.
The sale has sparked outrage and even protests among local area residents who consider the Tubman house to be an icon in Boston’s African-American history. However, officials with the nonprofit insist the agreement was vital for the group’s survival.
“This gives us the resources to rebuild the Harriet Tubman House on the Rutland Street property and to establish an endowment for the organization to ensure stability for years to come,” USES Executive Director Maicharia Weir Lytle told the Bay Street Banner earlier this year. “That was a big piece for us. We want to make sure the organization is still here.”
“We’ve been looking at how we can utilize our real estate to further our mission,” she added.
The making and marks of the Harriet Tubman House won’t be totally lost in the redevelopment. In addition to a USES workspace, the new building will retain a colorful mural depicting the diversity of South End that’s currently on Harriet Tubman House, according to HuffPost.
Still, many residents are upset to see yet another pillar of their community is being pushed out to make way for a new development.
“This is yet another one of the major Black institutions in Boston that is being bulled over and in this case torn down for condos,” former city councilor Tito Jackson told the outlet. “To lose these institutions is not only an institutional loss but it’s also a loss of services and a loss of history in particular.”
Arnesse Brown, who founded IAmHarriet in effort to save the building. described the Tubman House as “one of the last symbols of the black presence in the South End.”
“This building was built in the 1970s, brick by brick, by the community,’ Brown told the Boston Herald. You don’t get to tell me, ‘Oh, we’ll build another building. You can’t tell me what to do with my memories. Black people’s memories shouldn’t just be relegated to a plaque somewhere.”
The controversial sale will be USES’ fourth move since its founding in 1892. The umbrella organization was established to help Blacks from the South and immigrants get settled in Boston.
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