A History of the Island

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In a 1947 article Ebony magazine declared that: “The most exclusive Negro summer colony in the country is at quaint historical Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard.” The piece added, “Negro and white swim together on the public beaches, rub shoulders at public affairs.” Forty-two years later, in 1989, Ebony again coined the island “a vacation Mecca.”

Originally inhabited by the Wampanoag people, Martha's Vineyard was once called Noepe, or "land amid the streams.” Today, the island has become a magnet for some of the most influential people in the world, including Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Princess Diana, Spike Lee, the Kennedys, the Clintons and of course, the Obamas. Beautiful sunsets. Scenic beaches. Diverse people. Film festivals. Bookstores. Delicious food. Bike paths. Golf courses. Martha's Vineyard is all that, and more.

What makes Martha’s Vineyard SO special to Black America, is the iconic experience that black people have had on the island—particularly, in the town of Oak Bluffs. Oak Bluffs became a tourist destination out of necessity. Its harbor drew freed slaves, laborers and sailors in the 18th century. Prior to the civil rights era, black Americans were customarily denied access to beaches, pools, and recreational locales from the Jim Crow South all the way to Maine, but Oak Bluffs became at least one panacea for this systematic segregation. By the 1930s, Oak Bluffs was known as one of the country’s most exclusive getaways for the Black upper-class, attracting doctors, writers, lawyers, and politicians from across the country. Whether just for the summer or year-round, Oak Bluffs has been what Maya Angelou describes as home: "a safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

Did we mention FREDERICK DOUGLAS spoke at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown, where we’re getting married?!