Guest Op-Ed : Harriet Tubman : Sold to the Highest Bidder…Again

By David Wright (Executive Director of the Black Ministerial Alliance), Rachel Goldberg, Lilly Marcelin and Eva Kerr

During Black History Month, African Americans are reminded of the accom-plishments of our people and their contributions to this Nation. It is also a time for remembering the oppression we have suffered, particularly as a result of our enslavement and the continuing denial of basic human rights that follows.  As a result, it is particularly poignant that last February, during Black History Month, the United South End Settlements (USES) announced that the Harriet Tubman House was going to be up for sale to the highest bidder. 

And, yes, it was a white man and his team who won the bid.

This is not a case of “sore losers” attacking the highest bidder.

This is the case of a legacy, a landmark, a home to non-profits that serve the underserved, a haven for youth, a sanctuary for seniors, being sold so that even more luxury condominiums can be erected and even more people can be displaced from the home and community they have known.  This is a case of community groups, who’ve banded together to put in a significant bid.

This is the case of groups who want to preserve the legacy—both of Harriet Tubman and the house that bears her name—not being allowed to do so. The proverbial bone tossed to the community was to name these luxury condomini-ums “Tubman Place.”  Harriet Tubman freed slaves, spied for the Union, funded the creation of schools, and built settlements.  What of that work speaks to lux-ury at the expense of others? That sounds more like slavery, to us.

Before this building named after the historic and iconic Harriet Tubman is de-stroyed, let those who truly love her get the chance to redeem her from the hands of the highest bidder.  Let the community make a good faith attempt to buy this beacon of hope and refuge for so many. Let us make an effort to pre-serve what is good about Boston and great about the South End; its diversity socially, religiously, and economically.

•Displacement, Memories of Urban Renewal – With a Twist: Non-Profits

I Am Harriet! I am Lilly Marcelin, the Founder and Executive Director of the Re-silient Sisterhood Project (RSP). RSP has been a tenant at USES’ Harriet Tubman House since its’ inception in 2012. Our mission is to inform and empower wom-en of African descent around their reproductive health and rights. As one of the tenants who was once welcomed in the past, and who is now being dis-placed by the pending sale, I am deeply unhappy about this unjust prospect. Such a displacement will create financial hardship to my small nonprofit on many levels and bring undue burden to the many women we serve. I will remain undeterred in my opposition while voicing my public disapprobation. I will con-tinue to raise my concerns about this sale—which had its genesis from a flawed and non-transparent process. I am painfully aware that those of us who do not support this sale may not have the million-dollar marketing and political ma-chinery behind us.

I and others from the community will not be silenced by people who want to dic-tate to us how we should wrestle with the loss of this building named the histor-ic and iconic Harriet Tubman. We will use our emotions to let our ancestors know that we recognize their sacrifices and spirits.  We say, “Obuntu,” “I am because of you.” Through courage and tenacity, we will resist the tactics of microaggression from those who are using class, race, and position of wealth as intimidation tropes.

•Alternatives and Survival For All

I Am Harriet! I am Rachel Goldberg, owner Goldberg Real Estate and Funding group and Artist/Artitude Collection, and I understand how the rich history of the Harriet Tubman house speaks loudly for itself in this year where Harriet is being acknowledged and attacked throughout the country. To lose unnecessarily a community asset, which has enriched so many lives, is not necessary. There are so many options and alternatives which exist for real estate assets, the last being demolition. There are many alternatives to allow the sacred home with Harriet, the non-profit agencies and United South End Settlements to con-tinue by manifesting other viable alternatives. We have a plan, which is actively in play, and we hope that it can proceed. It is a travesty that the plan for a better more efficient facility are not being explored since they are viable and im-portant to investigate rather than to add more luxury condos or work  spaces which only provide opportunities to those who have financial resources to pur-chase. For all of us, the rich past that has embraced the South End as a melting pot allowed so many people of various ethnic backgrounds to live together and learn from the wisdom of diversity. More importantly, the loss of Harriet Tubman House and services due to the displacement of the six non-profits housed there is further erosion of our community’s diversity and uniqueness and con-tributes to the increasing homogenization of the neighborhood.

•Memories of Harriet (Eva Kerr) I Am Harriet! I am Eva Kerr, a former GED/ABE instructor who spent the last five years of my working life at USES’ Harriet Tubman House. In many ways, they were the most fulfilling. The structure of Tubman House lent itself to communal ways of supporting the community around us. The windows looked out on, and drew in, life from the streets. Our programs centered around the open space, supporting each other. On the top floor and second floor, the GED/ABE program, the job oriented program, and the computer room, opened the world to adults (and young people). Seniors on the ground floor anchored it all. Because it was such an open space, it was welcoming. Anyone could see good things were going on (from teaching, tutoring, mentoring, and for a long time, good eating and mingling to service programs for those needing home repairs). The needs are still there and should be addressed, and it is hard to bear the thought of all that richness of human caring giving way to the tall unseeing height of brick or concrete.

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