A plaque at Brookline Town Hall commemorates those who fought in the 1775 Battle of Lexington, including three enslaved Black Brookline residents. (Photo: Hidden Brookline)

At History Cambridge, our mission is to uncover, document and share the stories of people and communities whose experiences have remained largely untold and unacknowledged. Through the work of our Tory Row Antiracism Coalition, we have engaged with our Brattle Street neighbors to better understand the history of enslavement and overlapping geography of what are now small, individual lots but which were once part of a fluid landscape whose buildings and people – white and Black – were intertwined tightly. In connecting with history organizations in neighboring cities and towns, we have found a similar fluidity of geography and a shared history of the experiences of Black residents, whether enslaved or free. As we work collaboratively with our neighbors, we have been asking how we can bring the stories of enslaved and free Black residents to the forefront of local history, and what one city’s experiences can teach Cantabrigians about uncovering these stories within our own communities.

In our quest to do “history without borders,” we plan a virtual History Café at 7 p.m. Feb. 3 about “Local History and the Black Experience in Slavery and Freedom.” We will speak with Barbara Brown of Hidden Brookline, an organization dedicated to bringing to light the history of slavery and freedom in that town. Brown will discuss the group’s founding and the challenges and successes it has encountered, and will speak about the importance of recognizing the devastating and dehumanizing effects of enslavement on Black residents while sharing how these individuals and their communities exerted agency and created political, educational and economic opportunities within the slave system and after emancipation. She will also share the story of teacher, writer and activist Florida Ruffin Ridley, whose life and work intersected closely with that of Cambridge’s own Maria Baldwin.

Our History Café will be moderated by Tatiana Cruz, professor of history and interdisciplinary program director of Africana studies at Simmons University (and a History Cambridge board member). A native of Brookline, Cruz holds a personal and professional interest in issues of race, public history and memory in these two cities, and will help us explore the importance of regional histories and the lessons Cambridge can learn from the work of Hidden Brookline.

We invite you to join us for this History Café and to engage with us in the important work of uncovering and sharing the stories of enslaved and free people of color in Brookline, Cambridge and beyond. What aspects of local Black history do you want to learn more about? Do you identify with a community whose history has not yet been widely shared? Do the stories told in your family, your neighborhood, your place of worship or other community groups need a wider audience? History Cambridge would love to hear from you as we work to expand the scope of local history to include the experiences of all Cantabrigians.

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About History Cambridge

History Cambridge started in 1905 as the Cambridge Historical Society. Today we have a new name, a new look and a whole new mission.

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 2022 is “How Does Cambridge Work?” Make history with us at cambridgehistory.org.