✊🏾 Celebrating Black History on Martha's Vineyard in 2024
background and reflections on Black heritage in February 2024
As a mother to two young black daughters, it’s important for everyone in our family to celebrate Black History Month. We have the opportunity to tell stories to younger generations of how Oak Bluffs and Martha’s Vineyard have been (and still are) a safe haven and retreat for many families. It’s also important to reflect on how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go as a community.
Today I want to finally add this post to my archives - a very brief summary of where Black History stands on Martha’s Vineyard. I also want to celebrate some of the amazing initiatives happening year-round, and the opportunities to reflect this month.
Looking Back: The Historical Context
A Long History: The contributions from African Americans date back to the 1600s when Martha's Vineyard saw the arrival of enslaved West Africans working on European settlers' farms (more here from Writers Theatre). In the 19th century, Martha's Vineyard experienced growth in industries like whaling and fishing, where African Americans played crucial roles.
A Sanctuary for Black Elites: By the early 20th century, Oak Bluffs became a notable retreat for African American elites. Establishments like the Shearer Inn provided safe spaces for Black vacationers during a time of widespread segregation.
Civil Rights Advocacy: The NAACP has a branch on Martha's Vineyard- this organization has been instrumental in advocating for African American rights and preserving cultural heritage on the island (NAACP Martha's Vineyard).
20th Century and Beyond: Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, Martha's Vineyard continued to be a hub for African American culture and history. The island became a popular vacation spot for Black families, with areas like Inkwell Beach becoming symbolic of Black leisure and freedom (Vineyard Gazette).
Explore the Significance Today: Today, Martha's Vineyard celebrates its African American heritage proudly. The African American Heritage Trail on Martha's Vineyard showcases over 30 sites significant to Black history. Each site, like the home of Dorothy West, tells a story of African American resilience and contribution to the island's heritage (MV African-American Heritage Trail).
Current Celebrations and Participation
Events Happening This Month
Today - Lunch Lecture: A Woman, A Hustler, A House, and A Legacy with Dawn Carroll at MV Museum, 12-12:45pm
Join us for a fascinating talk with part-time Island resident Dawn Carroll, an award-winning designer turned songwriter, producer, preservationist, and storyteller. The lecture will focus on the "Mystery Manor" and its historical significance. Admission includes a light lunch from Little House Café. Preregistration required.
Today - Shabbat Dinner with African-Inspired Menu at Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center, 5:30-7p / info
A brief Welcome-Shabbat service followed by a special dinner with African-inspired dishes, catered by Chef Ting.
Tomorrow 2/3 - Black History Month Event - Martha’s Vineyard Collaborative at Oak Bluffs Public Library, 10a
Join us in celebrating Black History Month with the NAACP Martha's Vineyard Branch, ASALH, the League of Women Voters, and the Oak Bluffs Library at this year’s Annual Collaborative Black History Month Event. This free two-hour virtual/in-person hybrid event features keynote speaker Bonnie Boswell, executive producer, reporter, and host of “Bonnie Boswell Reports” on PBS and a panel discussion covering a historical perspective on maternal health. A potluck brunch will follow.
Tomorrow 2/3 - Art Exhibit - Charly Palmer, Opening Reception, 2-4p
In celebration of Black History Month, the renowned artist Charly Palmer is showcasing his work at Oak Bluffs Public Library from February 2-24 (Opening celebration 2/3 from 2-4p). Palmer's work, known for its depth and richness in portraying Blackness, has gained national acclaim and is a great addition to this month’s celebration.
Black Joy MV Participation: Black Joy MV organizes events and initiatives that celebrate the joy and resilience of the Black community on Martha's Vineyard. Participating in their events allows visitors to actively engage with and support the island's Black community, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of Black culture and heritage (Black Joy MV).
Engaging with the Community through the African American Heritage Trail: The African American Heritage Trail offers guided tours of significant historical sites on the island. These tours provide an immersive experience into Martha's Vineyard's Black history, making it a must-do activity for those looking to engage with the island's heritage (African American Heritage Trail).
Supporting Black-Owned Businesses: A key way to participate in the celebration of Black history on Martha's Vineyard is by supporting Black-owned businesses. Culinary delights from Chef Deon’s kitchen, unique finds at retail shops like Sideline and Lenox & Harvey, showcase the entrepreneurial spirit and cultural richness of the island’s Black and indigeneous community. These businesses not only offer high-quality products and services but also contribute to the island's diverse culture.
Be sure to check out the directory of black owned businesses here.
Legacy Week on The Vineyard: there is an annual celebration for graduates. of HBCUs on Martha’s Vineyard each summer
Soulfully Textured: attend an annual natural hair festival in Waban Park each summer
Visit the Mariposa Museum: Located in Oak Bluffs, the Mariposa Museum explores African American and diaspora history and experience through the creativity of (primarily) black artists, storytellers, and scholars.
Save the Date: Juneteenth Weekend, organized by the Vineyard Gazette and the Chamber of Commerce, with support from. the MV Museum, occurs annually with a great variety of events. In the past, they’ve hosted a few festivals that you can look forward to annually
Annual Juneteenth Jubilee Cultural Festival at Trinity Park Tabernacle
Festive Juneteenth Picnic on the Lawn at Edgartown Library
NAACP Martha's Vineyard Branch presents Taste of Juneteenth at PA Club
This blend of past history and present makes the island a meaningful destination for understanding and celebrating Black culture. Our family is so proud to be a part of it, and excited to see opportunities and diversity continue to evolve.
Disclaimer: This post was not meant to feature every opportunity, so apologies if I missed one close to your heart. If there was something major I should include, feel free to send me a note! I want this to be an inclusive resource and know there are absolutely initiatives beyond what is listed above.