The first U.S. Census in 1790 counted 39 apparently free black people on Martha’s Vineyard. Ten lived in Edgartown and no doubt most lived in the Oak Bluffs Farm Neck neighborhood. The most recent census reports 511 on the Island with 220 living in Oak Bluffs, 4.9 per cent of our town’s population. And perhaps only a few of us have an inkling of Black History Month that starts today. Originally started as Negro History Week in 1926 by African American historian Carter G. Woodson, the week marked the dates between the births of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Mr. Woodson expected it to end once black history became fundamental to American history, and one argument could be made that given a black president, that time is close if not already at hand. Thanks to another president, Gerald Ford, who urged Americans to honor the “too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history,” the expansion of the week to a month was recognized by government and today is celebrated in Canada and the U.K. Known today as a popular resort frequented seasonally by black people from across the nation, Oak Bluffs has had a remarkable share of history makers who happen to be black, past and present. Former Sen. Edward W. Brooke certainly counts among those. He was the state’s first black attorney general in 1962 and was elected as the first black senator since Reconstruction in 1967, both worthy historical notes. But while in office he also helped lead the enactment of the Equal Credit Act that ensured married women the right to credit of their own. He led the fight to retain Title IX of the 1972 Education Act that guaranteed equal educational opportunity to girls and women and became an early supporter of legalized abortion. His friend and another longtime Oak Bluffs black homeowner, Dr. Kenneth Edelin, in October 1973, soon after the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe vs. Wade, performed an abortion on a 17-year-old girl who had come with her mother to request the procedure at the Boston hospital where Dr. Edelin worked as an obstetrician and gynecologist. His book Broken Justice describes how he nearly went to jail for performing a legal abortion.
Senator Brooke and Dr. Edelin’s Oak Bluffs home-owning friend Wayne A. Budd was the first black person to head a state bar association in Massachusetts. In 1989 when George H.W. Bush appointed him U.S. Attorney from Massachusetts, he became the highest-ranking black person in the country’s justice department. That was until until Ed and Ken and Wayne’s longtime friend Eric H. Holder Jr., another longtime Oak BLuffs visitor, was appointed U.S. Attorney General by his friend and Vineyard visitor Barack H. Obama. These black history-makers are real people. Eric will be the first to tell you that his wife Sharon Malone, an obstetrician, is smarter and better looking. Her sister Vivian was one of those who helped bring integration to the University of Alabama — which recently won a championship with black players on its team. Wayne has a great sense of humor, and he and his wife Jacqui Budd read this column as does Dr. Edelin, whose wife Barbara has been one of my playmates since childhood (a polite way of not divulging anyone’s age). Ed Brooke is like an uncle and has forgiven me for the time I neglected to show him which of the trees he said we could cut down to make a dugout canoe. The 60-foot tree proved too much to saw all the way through, and an ensuing storm finished the job, dropping it across Canonicus avenue and teaching us the value of a dollar as we worked the rest of the summer to repay him for its removal.
Brian Weiland, music teacher at the Oak Bluffs School, alerts us that the 15th annual school talent show is presented tonight from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. See and hear wildly talented kids singing, dancing, doing gymnastics routines, beat boxing and a Tae Kwon Do (martial arts) demonstration. Students will be playing harp, clarinet, piano, cello, guitar and drums, all backed by a live band of professional musicians. Admission is $2. There will be fresh pizza and popcorn for sale, and a 50/50 raffle benefits the school music program. All are welcome to a fun family evening.
Just 72 days until Giordano’s opens — and let’s hope Punxsutawney Phil sees that shadow tomorrow.
Keep your foot on a rock.