The Harriet Tubman House Memory Project
The Harriet Tubman House Memory Project is a Boston Research Center effort from 2020 to 2022 to preserve the legacy of the Harriet Tubman House, which stood at 566 Columbus Avenue in Boston’s South End from 1975 until its demolition in 2020. This project invites visitors to explore the history of the building and the people who worked, learned, and found joy and community within its walls. Here you will find digitized photographs, newsletters, ephemera, oral histories, and other historical records. These materials tell the story of a beloved community hub that served a racially and ethnically diverse neighborhood; the building’s sale sparked a wave of grassroots organizing, and its painful loss reverberates today.
In documenting the history of the Harriet Tubman House and United South End Settlements (USES), this project strives to offer testimony of the trauma of displacement, the power of community action and resilience, and the meaning of place in the South End. The Harriet Tubman House Memory Project was designed with past and present staff of USES and community members affiliated with the community coalition I Am Harriet.
History of the Harriet Tubman House
The Harriet Tubman House has had a layered history and multiple geographies in Boston’s South End. The first iteration was founded in 1904 as an autonomous space and residence for Black women, by Black women. In 1950, as the neighborhood braced itself for the coming challenges of urban renewal, the organization merged with four settlement houses and the Children’s Art Centre to become the United South End Settlements (USES). In 1975, a new Harriet Tubman House was constructed at 566 Columbus Avenue, where it served as a base of operations for USES, as well as a community center, gathering space, art gallery, and main office for several nonprofit organizations. The sale and demolition of the building in 2020 meant many things at once: for many community members, it marked the loss of a memory-infused landmark; for the organization, it meant survival and continued service to the neighborhood.
The Harriet Tubman House Memory Project includes two oral history collections, created 25 years apart. The “South End Honor Roll” was produced by United South End Settlements from 1995-1996, and offers a broad history of the neighborhood and the role of settlement houses throughout the 20th century. These interviews were recorded in VHS format and digitized in 2021 as part of the Harriet Tubman House Memory Project.
The oral histories gathered as part of the 2020-2022 Harriet Tubman House Memory Project center on the experiences of past and present directors, board members, staff, volunteers, and community members who have benefited from, served, and engaged with USES via the Harriet Tubman House. Because these interviews took place at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, they were conducted remotely via Zoom.