Tubman House Sale Brings Out Protests, Triggers Vandalism: Court Case and Injunction Filed Last Week Quickly Dismissed

Protests broke out again on Aug. 20 over the sale of the Tubman House on Mass Avenue, and the mural on the building was defaced early Monday – only days after the project was approved to move ahead with demolition and the final non-profit tenants had to move out.

As the saga continued on Tuesday, a Superior Court judge quickly dismissed an injunction and complaint by some abutters filed a week ago to stop the demolition and the sale of the property, which is to be sold by United South End Settlements (USES) to New Boston Ventures for the development of housing. USES has consistently said they need the proceeds from the sale to continue the life of their 127 year old organization, providing services at their other South End location.

Marchers and protesters took to the streets of the South End on Aug. 18 to fight the sale, demolition and development of the Tubman House on Mass Avenue. A court challenge last week by abutters and some protesters was dismissed in Superior Court on Tuesday.

It has been a busy week, no doubt, for a project that had been rather muted in the beginning, then heated up to full blast for about 10 months, and then calmed again as it made its way through Landmarks and the final approvals.

Some in the City ranks had commented that the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) review meetings last year were some of the most raucous and unruly meetings anyone had seen since the 1970s.

Last week, after final approvals started to come and non-profit tenants began to leave, the protests started again and a last ditch effort was filed in court Aug. 18.

It was dismissed this Tuesday, Aug. 25.

“The plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction is DENIED,” read the decision. “The plaintiffs have failed to establish a likelihood of success of the merits of the claim, as USES acquired the subject premises in 1974, prior to the date of the Conciliation Agreement. Additionally, plaintiffs were aware of the proposal in December, 2019, and did not seek relief until one week prior to the scheduled closing, raising a laches concern.”

There was an argument made that the building had an agreement upon it that United South End Settlements could not use it for any other reason except to serve the community. The judge did not agree.

Attorney Brian Kaplan, who filed the complaint and injunction, did not return a call from the Sun for comment.

Last Wednesday, the ‘I Am Harriet’ consortium and others against the project gathered at the Tubman House to protest the sale and development of “luxury condos” on the site. With microphones and megaphones, they marched through the South End up Columbus Avenue and over to Tremont Street with signs reading, ‘Defend the Tubman House,’ and ‘Stop the War on Black America.’

According to a website for ‘I Am Harriet,’ they are an inter-generational, Black women-led group of a variety of people fighting gentrification and the sale and development of the Tubman House.

I Am Harriet is the voice of Harriet Tubman and the community gentrification left behind,” read part of the mission statement. “We stand for women’s empowerment, respect, strength, and bravery, driven by the values the Liberator herself stood for: Freedom, Determination and the Power of Working Together. I Am Harriet recognizes the multi-racial history of the historic South End and Lower Roxbury and uplifts the contributions and voices of non-people of color community members in a common fight for justice.”

The saga continued on Monday when USES reported the iconic mural on the Tubman House, which is being recreated by the developer, was defaced and vandalized.

Spray painted on it were ‘Black Gold,’ ‘Black Minds Matter-Black Art Matters,’ and ‘Love (over) Hate.’

“Clearly this must have been done by people who do not know, care about, or respect our neighborhood or USES’s long history of service to this community,” read a statement from USES.

“For more than a century, and in the spirit of Harriet Tubman, we have demonstrated that Black Lives Matter and promoted and showcased Black art,” continued the statement. “For the record, preserving the iconic Honor Roll mural has always been a top priority for USES and New Boston Ventures. We have worked with the artist’s widow Carolyn Parker, esteemed architect David Lee and others on how best to preserve the mural. Preserving the mural is not just about preserving public art but also about preserving an important part of our neighborhood and African American history.”

The statement also alluded that those who vandalized the mural were part of the march on Aug. 18 – which USES described as mostly people from out of town.

“A few days prior to this incident, there was a march by a small group of dissenters, many of whom do not live in this community,” it read. “Their goal is to preserve a building. Ours is to continue providing much-needed services for the mostly Black and Brown families we serve today, and into the future, especially now as our families are being hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. We respect free speech. We respect difference of opinion. We also believe that vandalizing the public view of the mural and defacing a building is not only shameful, but also destructive and disrespectful.”

The demolition of the Tubman House has already been approved, and Landmarks has also given a green light to the project. No timeline was given for the closing on the sale or the demolition.

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