Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Participants in the Good Riddance to 2020 event held Dec. 13, 2020, share what they want to leave behind in 2020. (Photo: History Cambridge)

It’s hard to believe it has been nearly four years since much of the world shut down for many months in the wake of the Covid pandemic. Much changed for what was then the Cambridge Historical Society during 2020; our immediate focus was to assess the needs of our Cambridge community as residents needed to stay physically distant but still craved human contact. Our programming became virtual in an attempt to provide the community with the historical context for other challenging times in the city’s past.

During the summer of 2020, as the killing of George Floyd brought the Black Lives Matter movement to broader public attention, CHS also began to reckon in a more visible way with the legacy of white supremacy on which our organization was founded, as well as the ways in which our offices at 159 Brattle St. were tied to domestic enslavement in Massachusetts and the plantation system of enslavement that existed in the Caribbean during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

This reckoning led us to create the Tory Row Antiracism Coalition, a working group for the individuals and organizations along Brattle Street (known as Tory Row during the Revolutionary period, for many of its residents’ ongoing allegiance to Britain) to better understand the role of enslavement and racism in the area’s history and to work toward an antiracist future. We also embarked on a name change – from the Cambridge Historical Society to History Cambridge – and a clearer articulation of our mission statement to reflect the inclusive approach to history that already existed within our organization.

After the many challenges the year had thrown at the Cambridge community, we decided to leave 2020 behind in a safe and socially distanced way at our “Good Riddance to 2020” event. We had hoped to acquire – and set fire to – a dumpster, but that proved to be logistically difficult. Instead, we offered Cantabrigians the opportunity to write down and shred a memory, loss or regret from the year. And because we wanted to look toward better times, we invited residents to write down what they were taking into 2021.

A young attendee shares his hopes for 2021. (Photo: History Cambridge)

This event provided Cantabrigians with a chance to commemorate their own journeys, let them go and move into 2021 with a fresh perspective. On Dec. 13, 2020, residents of Cambridge and beyond dropped by our offices to write down the things they wished to leave behind from 2020, run them through a shredder and recycle them. Then they wrote down their hopes, dreams and wishes on a piece of seeded paper – all that they had learned and gained from 2020 that they wanted to take with them into 2021. Participants took home their creations to plant, and shared their photos with us on social media using the hashtag #seedlingsofhope.

History Cambridge executive director Marieke Van Damme, right, and volunteer Maggie Folsom welcome participants to Good Riddance to 2020 event at 159 Brattle St., West Cambridge. (Photo: History Cambridge)

As we now know, although 2021 did bring many advances in the treatment and prevention of Covid – most notably the creation of a vaccine – the effects of the dual pandemics of Covid and systemic racism did not end in 2020. Cambridge, like much of the world, is still dealing with many of the issues and challenges brought to light during that first tumultuous year. At the same time, our city has demonstrated a tremendous resilience as residents came together to care for one another and commit themselves to building a more inclusive community. Although much work remains to be done to make Cambridge the best version of itself, the legacy of caring and cooperation that has emerged over the past four years reminds us of all that the city can be.

Did you participate in our “Good Riddance 2020” event? How do you look back at that event three years later? Have your hopes for 2021 (and beyond) come to fruition? What do you see as the legacy of these past several years in the Cambridge community? Let us know your thoughts and share pictures you may have of the “Good Riddance” event, and sign up for our newsletter as we embark on a new year of programs that help to put Cambridge history – from the distant and more recent past – to work for you.


About History Cambridge

History Cambridge started in 1905 as the Cambridge Historical Society. Today we have a new name and a new mission. We engage with our city to explore how the past influences the present to shape a better future. We recognize that every person in our city knows something about Cambridge’s history, and their knowledge matters. We listen to our community and we live by the ideal that history belongs to everyone. Throughout 2023, we are focusing on the history of Cambridgeport. Make history with us at

History Cambridge is a nonprofit organization. Our activities rely on your financial support. If you value articles like this one, give today.

Beth Folsom is programs manager for History Cambridge.