The Riverside community was diverse but largely working class. By 1970, the population was just under 10,000 people. White residents included Irish and Greek immigrants who settled in the early twentieth century. As early as the 1890s, a sizable Black community was centered at Western Avenue and Howard Street
Many Black residents had purchased homes in the area by the mid-twentieth century, and the community was thriving with a commercial district, stores, offices, and an auto repair shop at this intersection. The Cambridge branch of the N.A.A.C.P.–a national civil rights organization–had an office at 205 Western Avenue and a mailing list of over 500 people in the late 1960s.The Cambridge branch of the N.A.A.C.P.–a national civil rights organization–had an office at 205 Western Avenue and a mailing list of over 500 people in the late 1960s.
The Christian faith was important to the community, and churches played both a social and spiritual role. Neighborhood residents attended the two nearby churches: Western Avenue Baptist Church (1916) and Abundant Life (1917) at the corner of Howard and Callendar Streets. Other residents of different denominations attended St. Augustine’s African Orthodox (1886) on Allston Street in Cambridgeport and St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal (1908) and St. Paul’s AME, both on the other side of Central Square.