George R. Greenidge Sr. grew up in The Port neighborhood going to the Margaret Fuller House. This physical education teacher and coach at Rindge Tech and Cambridge Rindge and Latin School later gained local fame as “Doctor Pepper,” a popular Fenway Park food vendor. Photo: Cambridge Historical Society)

The Sweet Souls oral history project offers answers to questions of local engagement: What is the role of a settlement house institution such as the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House in the history of engagement in Cambridge? How has the Fuller House – and the community that engages with it – navigated the relationship between the everyday work of meeting basic needs and the transformational effort to make change?

Answers emerge from listening to eight “Sweet Souls” narrators: Duane Brown, Selvin Chambers, Marian Darlington-Hope, Denise Foderingham, George Greenidge Sr., Donnie Harding, Richard Harding and Nancy Ryan. They recount their life stories and the ways the Fuller House weaves through them. Each story is a moving document, generously shared with us – a way to understand our present and our past by listening to the experiences of our neighbors. A detailed mosaic of the Fuller House’s many forms of hospitality emerge from these stories, one constructed from recollections of familiar smells, sweaty teen basement dances, childhood summer outings, learning to knit, Black Panther Party breakfasts and activist organizations brought into being. Narrators used words such as “living room,” “safe haven,” “grounding” and “anchor” to describe the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House’s place in their lives and the life of The Port neighborhood. Each expressed a great warmth and attachment to the memory of the Fuller House, recognition of its unique role in The Port and Cambridge, confidence in its relevance and ability to answer the question “What’s needed now?” and hope for its continued survival.

Together, these oral histories express how the Fuller House has served across generations as the emotional, symbolic, service and activist heart of The Port – a neighborhood historically considered the center of Black Cambridge, and one which has been pressured across generations to fight racial injustices, economic and food insecurity, violence real and perceived, and the uprooting and upheaval caused by hyper-gentrification.

In October 2019, the team hosted a midpoint roundtable discussion at the MFNH, where the public listened to narrators’ stories of the Fuller House and gave input on what they were curious to know more about. View the event and learn more about it here.

To listen to these oral histories and to learn more about Cambridge History, visit the Cambridge Historical Society website.

 

About the Cambridge Historical Society

We engage with our city to explore how the past influences the present to shape a better future. We strive to be the most relevant and responsive historical voice in Cambridge. We do that by recognizing that every person in our city knows something about Cambridge’s history, and their knowledge matters. We support people in sharing history with each other – and weaving their knowledge together – by offering them the floor, the mic, the platform. We shed light where historical perspectives are needed. We listen to our community. We live by the ideal that history belongs to everyone.

Our theme for 2021 is “How Does Cambridge Mend?” Make history with us at cambridgehistory.org.


Lynn Waskelis was the project manager for the Sweet Souls oral history project. Special thanks to interviewers Lina Raciukaitis and Katie Burke for their work on this project.

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