Historical Commission Announces Publication of We are the Port

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We Are the Port: Stories of Place, Perseverance, and Pride in the Port/Area 4
Cambridge, Massachusetts 1845-2005
By Sarah Boyer
With Kathleen L. (Kit) Rawlins and Kathleen Walcott

We Are the Port represents a five-year effort to interview more than 125 longtime Port residents of myriad ethnicities and backgrounds, representing a variety of cultures, religions, and ages in a neighborhood known for its diversity and vibrant multiculturalism.

The book traces immigration into the Port beginning in the 1840s. People from Ireland, Eastern Europe, Greece, Sweden, and Portugal, and the West Indies, as well as African Americans from Boston and the South, poured into this rapidly changing industrial center to work in shops and factories producing everything from soap and rubber to confections and musical instruments. The generational family stories inspired and moved the author, Sarah Boyer; many shared accounts of the courage of those who left their native countries to face an unknown world, toiling endlessly to provide for their families and improve the lives of their children and succeeding generations. Boyer also writes about the many institutions that have and continue to support the community: more than twenty-five churches, a shul, and a mosque provide for spiritual and temporal needs; the Margaret Fuller House, a 100+-year-old agency, focuses on Port youth; and the Area 4 Neighborhood Coalition, a group of activists, addresses gentrification and development.

True Story Theater, an Arlington, Massachusetts-based theater troupe, will perform improvisation based on audience stories of the Port neighborhood.
Wednesday, Feb 25, 6:30 p.m.
The Central Square Theater, 450 Mass. Ave.
This is a free public event but tickets, which can be reserved at www.truestorytheater.org, are encouraged.

Over the course of 150 years, the Port has faced many challenges – from the federal anti-immigrant acts of the 1920s to plans for an Inner Belt highway that would have displaced many families and businesses. In the last fifty years, residents have joined the struggle for civil rights, including needs for educational parity and a more responsive city government. The community has weathered the winds of change, from the construction of Newtowne Court and Washington Elms in the mid- to late-1930s to the redevelopment of Kendall Square.  

The title, We Are the Port, comes from an assertion made countless times by longtime and lifelong residents. In the mid-1950s the Planning Board divided the city into thirteen numbered neighborhoods; the Port was designated Area 4. To most who live there, “Area 4” sounds like a police district or an alien designation, and they loyally call the neighborhood by its original name, the Port. 

The Port carries a strong tradition of acceptance of all people, regardless of their background, ethnicity, or religion. Lifelong resident Donnie Harding, whose family emigrated from Barbados, explained his feeling about growing up in the Port: “If ever there was a Utopia, it was the Port in the ‘50s to ‘60s. Just knowing that different people were right there has helped in all of our lives growing up. My relationships with people are so much more open because I accept people for who they are.”

We are the Port is on sale at Cambridge Historical Commission, 2nd floor, 831 Mass. Ave., for $25 a copy. The book will also be available at Rodney’s (698 Mass. Ave. in Central Square), Harvard Book Store (1256 Mass. Ave. in Harvard Square), and Porter Square Books at the Porter Square Shopping Center.



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