Emotions ran high and tensions boiled over at a community meeting regarding the future of the Harriet Tubman House in Boston’s South End neighborhood last Wednesday.
Outside of the meeting demonstrators protested plans to sell the building, which has provided social services for decades, and turn it into a condo tower.
“I mean just think historically what that sounds like: Harriet Tubman sold off to the highest bidder,” said Boston native and People’s Baptist Church member David Wright.
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Radical Black Girl Destiny Polk helped organize the rally.
“Over generations people who look like me have been moved farther and farther out and so the sale of this building is really a symbolic one,” Polk said.
The issue is also complicated.
“The Harriet Tubman House was founded originally on Holyoke Street in 1906 by 6 African American women, said Maicharia Weir Lytle, who is the President and CEO of United South End Settlements.
The Harriet Tubman House was created in response to discrimination and to serve as a shelter for African-American women migrating from the south
It has moved several times over the years, including in 1975 to its current home on Columbus Avenue. However, this may not be it’s last home.
“If we don’t have this sale and if this sale is blocked, ultimately USES will no longer be in existence, said Weir Lytle. “We will no longer be able to serve the 350 children that come through our doors each day.”
United South End Settlements provides early childhood education, after school programs and camp for kids and families in need.
Weir Lytle Says the nonprofit, which owns the Tubman house, spent $450,000 a year to maintain it. That’s part of up to $900,000 in maintenance costs for its three Boston properties and it’s a New Hampshire camp.
She says the organization cannot afford these costs. But they do plan to use the building so funds to rebuild a new Harriet Tubman House next to its other properties.
But first the plan needs approval from the Boston Planning and Development Agency, which was also at last Wednesday’s community meeting where USES and developers presented the project proposal.
“...will include 17 percent affordable units,”said Dennis Kanin of New Boston Ventures.
“There’ll still be a presence from USES at this location and at no cost,” said Kanin’s partner David Goldman.
But Polk said protesters are not giving up.
“When we want things to be done, that they can be done and it doesn’t have to come at the expense of thousands of people,” she said.
“A lot of them are seniors who’ve eaten here for who knows how many years,” Wright said. “This is a community institution.”
Weir Lytle said it will have to be sold if USES is to continue operating.
“So we are really hopeful that the community can unite and support our organization,” she said.