Being in the North, Cambridge has many different historical sites and citizens that made this city great. The prevalence of education and community building that is present in 2016 Cambridge can be traced back to the early black citizens whose contributions might not always be acknowledged.
Important African Americans in Cambridge
For example, some might know the name of Harriet Jacobs, who published her seminal work, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, in 1861. Though she was more active in Philadelphia, she is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge in 1897. However, does the name Maria Baldwin sound familiar?
She was born and educated in Cambridge, MA, and in 1889, she became the first female African American principal in both Massachusetts and the Northeast, at Agassiz Grammar School. Her education practices and policies continue to affect the lives of schoolchildren today, such as her novel idea of having a school nurse.
The stories of these African American lives and contributions are detailed, along with other biographies, on Cambridge’s African American Heritage trail. The recommended place to start is at Harvard Square, and the path sprawls out through the city in its retelling of 20 important black citizens.
Ethelbert Cooper Gallery
Another important site in Cambridge is the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery, which houses African and African American art. This museum is named after the Liberian entrepreneur and philanthropist, Ethelbert Cooper. Quoting from the website, this gallery “hosts a wide range of dynamic workshops, artist talks, symposia, lectures and performances that engage audiences with diverse art archives and cultural traditions from all over the world”.
The works presented give a stunning insight into the world and culture of African Americans through art, and can give any visitor some added depth and perspective to their Cambridge visit. For instance, running until May, is the “Art of Jazz: Form/Performance/Notes” installation, held in collaboration with the Harvard Art Museums. Any jazz lover will appreciate this display’s look into the intersection between jazz and visual arts. The Cooper Gallery is located at 102 Mount Auburn Street.
Black History Month Theater Event in Cambridge
Later in the month of February, the city of Cambridge will celebrate Black History month with a showcase of scenes from the play “The Convert” at the Central Square Theater. After the performance, there will be an open discussion between the cast and the members of the audience about issues that continue to impact lives in Cambridge and beyond. Though “The Convert” is set in 1896 in Zimbabwe (then named Rhodesia), the themes of injustice and colonialism’s impact on the lives of African Americans definitely still affect any modern audiences. The show runs until February 28.
–Sarah Terhune, Intern