BETTYE FOSTER BAKER
The fascination and excitement of the Fourth of July celebration came and went, but it was Sunday morning, July 6, under the lofty ceiling of historic Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs that Professor Charles Olgetree Jr. of the Harvard Law School reframed that historical conversation of July 4, 1776, with a moving and thoughtful sermon to an overflowing chapel, What July Fourth Means to Me.
He put into perspective for us those difficult moments in our history that the nation had to confront enormous barriers to African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and women which emerged over time to thwart the promise of the Constitution, the greatest document and experiment of social and political justice ever written for a people. It was within that contextual discussion of several key people and events that we were able to travel along the road with Professor Ogletree to examine the nation’s progress.
Ogletree emphasized the notorious Dred Scott Decision of 1857, where Chief Justice Tanney handed down a sobering ruling that said that blacks had no rights that a white man had to respect. Of course, within that context we know the significant historical roles played by the 13th, 14th, 15th and 22nd amendments. Additionally, the outcome of the civil rights movement, and efforts by such luminaries as former Justice Thurgood Marshall, Charles Houston, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Fannie Lou Hammer have brought us to where we are today. That path Professor Ogletree alludes to has allowed the nation to work towards achieving a “more perfect union,” and becomes even more wondrous when we are privileged in our lifetime to see an African American, Barack Obama, become a serious contender for the highest office in the land — president of the United States. Professor Ogletree, quoted Obama’s words: “In no other country is my story possible.” He ended his sermon by saying, “This is what the Fourth of July means to me.”
We are also privileged to have Professor Ogletree in our midst — an Oak Bluffs summer resident and man of deep conviction who in his own right continues that struggle to right historical injustice. This will be a morning to remember from this Fourth of July weekend.
Back roads have their unique charm and should you have the occasion to walk one of our many dirt roads on the Island, or simply sit on a porch off a nostalgic road, near one of our small or great ponds, it is undeniably a throwback to that country life so familiar to those who as children spent summertime at camp, who lived in the country or who lived or visited relatives in the Deep South.
Recently, I sat on a rustic porch off a small dirt road with friends Louis Wilson, professor at Smith College, and his wife Alona Wilson overlooking Farm Pond. A woman walking a pair of pugs stopped to tell us all about her dogs and her yearly sojourn to this place that she enjoys so much. An occasional car moved slowly down the road which we examined in minute detail including the waving driver. Then there was the tall, waving brown grass blowing gently in the wind, and geese honking, a counterpoint to that lovely silence. In the distance, children launched a small boat and moved out into the gentle waters of Farm Pond — effortless joy that caught me up in that moment — a memory of Camp Shantituck, my Girl Scout camp in Shepherdsville, Ky., where I spent many summers boating and swimming, hiking and singing, digging bean holes and rolling up the sides of our tent, crossing the meadow over the creek, and nursing that unfortunate encounter with nettles and an occasional sprained ankle.
That road carried me back to those less hurried days when worries seemed few and summer was longer by memory’s count. When I think of some 21st century children who are learning Chinese and French and other exotic choices in summer schools, it is great to learn they are also swimming and doing art, though most activities are structured. And I wonder if they too will ever encounter such places where the heart lives on lazy summer days, where time relaxes and imaginations fly. To feel those days again was a rare gift this week and it all happened here so unexpectantly, so serendipitously.
Those who attended the Robert Sims and Georgia Guitar Quartet concert at the Tabernacle on Sunday, July 6 have agreed it was a perfect evening. The repertoire, featuring Leonard Bernstein’s Simple Song, George Gershwin’s Summertime and Plenty of Nothing, Roland Hayes’s Little Boy and Joe Darion’s and Mitch Leigh’s Impossible Dream, were at once exciting and uplifting. We look forward to a return concert next year!
Don’t miss the MSPCA benefit on Monday, July 14, at Balance Restaurant in Oak Bluffs. Ben Taylor and David Saw along with special friends and family are sure to make this an exciting evening. Tickets for the dinner and show are $100 and will benefit the MSPCA. Doors open at 6 p.m. for cocktails. Dinner will be served at 7 p.m. and the show will follow. Tickets can be purchased at Balance. For more information, call Balance at 508-696-3000 or Jen Morgan at the MSPCA at 508-627-8662.
Users of the library’s children’s room are enjoying many fun-filled mornings and afternoons these days. Lots of children are taking part in this year’s summer reading program. They are reading and reporting the books they have read in order to earn a “Wild Reads” T-shirt and the weekly incentive prizes provided by our generous Oak Bluffs merchants.
The Wednesday morning pre-school story hour session is full each Wednesday. In the future, if the crowds are too big for our occupancy rating, we will host a second story hour at 11:15 a.m. The 5 to 10-year-old group is busy on Friday mornings at 10:30 exploring and reading about All Things Wild!
And speaking of wild . . . on Saturday, July 19, at 10:30 a.m., the Wild Thing from Maurice Sendak’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, will be visiting our library. A crowd is expected, so the event will be held in the Meeting Room and light refreshments will be served. Two character dolls, Max and the Wild Thing, will be raffled off that morning, so plan to join the family fun.
On Thursday, July 17 at 6:30 p.m., Gus Ben David will bring his menagerie of snakes, turtles and maybe eaglet owls to the library meeting room for an evening of family entertainment to celebrate the summer reading program.
Also of interest to youth ages 10 to 18, Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero will return to the library for only one afternoon of fun this summer. The date is Thursday, July 24, from 1 to 3 p.m. The meeting room will once again be the scene of fancy footwork and fretwork, and pizza and soda will be served. Mark your calendars.
The Rev. Dr. James Kowalski, Dean of St. John’s Cathedral, New York city, will speak at Union Chapel on Sunday, July 13 at 10 a.m.
Planning a wedding, anniversary, family reunion, special tribute? Have guests coming? Let me know. This column shares memories, coming events and all that’s new and exciting in Oak Bluffs. And by the way, don’t forget to open your gifts.