In 1965 I had lived for 21 years in Crestwood, N.Y., and 18 years on Martha’s Vineyard. I knew very little about the rest of the world. But I wanted to. Much was going on in the outside world in this most memorable of decades — the Viet Nam War, the Civil Rights Movement, assassinations, the beginning of the women’s liberation movement — and the Vineyard, despite its small size, was involved in some way in all of them.

In 1963 I had joined a small group of people interested in starting a chapter of the NAACP on the Island. In 1965 our group was seeking someone to represent us at the NAACP national convention in Denver, Colo. I volunteered to go, as it was in June and no one else was able to get away as the Island was preparing for a busy summer season. I was still a stay-at-home mom and my children were old enough to be left in the care of their father. School was out for the summer and they were now aged 10, 14 and 16.

I had no idea what to expect. I had never been to a convention — I had never traveled anywhere by myself, I had never even flown on a jet. I was determined but sort of terrified. When I finally got to Logan Airport, I took out a huge amount of flight insurance from a vending machine. If I died in a plane crash my husband would be able to hire someone to help take care of the children. (Those vending machines have long been extinct.)

A few days before I left, my neighbor, Milton Mazer, who was the psychiatrist on the Vineyard, had given me a tranquilizer to take when I boarded my plane. Then, when we were airborne, I ordered a martini. Between that and the tranquilizer I was able to pass the five-hour flight in a relaxed daze.

When I arrived in Denver I took a cab to the convention hotel and checked in. As I passed through the lobby on my way to the elevators, I realized that since I had come through the entrance of the hotel, I had not seen another white face. For the first time in my life I was truly a minority figure in a crowd. But before I reached the elevator, a black man approached me and asked if I was the delegate from Martha’s Vineyard. His name was Avery and he was the representative from Cape Cod and had heard that a white woman would be there from the Vineyard. Since I was the only white face in the lobby, he had surmised I must be from Massachusetts. He was friendly and offered help in any way I needed it. I was touched by this offer and wondered briefly if a white person would have offered help to a black person caught in a crowd of whites. Highly unlikely in the sixties.

In fact, everyone was friendly, and I felt accepted by all. The week passed, filled with meetings and speeches, and I did see a few more white faces in the auditorium crowds. My new friend from Hyannis was often close by and invited me to eat with him and his friends at meal time.

At the end of the week a group of the conventioneers decided to rent a car and drive to the foothills of the Rockies on a sightseeing trip. Avery, my Cape Cod friend, invited me to go along with them. We all piled into the rental car — I think there were five of us — and had a lovely day. On the way back to the hotel the four men decided to go to the “colored” section of Denver to a café for a drink.

We stopped in a neighborhood called Park Hill and entered a bar. At 6 p.m. it was crowded and the room was dimly lit, with people sitting at round tables, mostly drinking beer. We found an empty table and sat down. I didn’t see another white face, and I could feel the tension in the room as they all turned to look at us. This was a local stop for local people, and I was out of place. I could hear their questions in my head — who is she? Why is she here? The emotional stress was palpable. All these people, here to relax after a day’s work, were now on guard, tense at the wonderment of a white woman in their midst. It was obvious to me that I should leave. I told Avery I wasn’t feeling well and asked him to call me a cab which returned me to the hotel.

The next day the convention was over and I left the hotel to catch my flight. I carried a large bag of information and souvenirs, advertising in large letters on the outside, the NAACP National Convention of 1965. I squeezed into my seat next to a woman, the talkative kind I hope never to sit next to on a five-hour flight. I needed time to absorb the past week and what it all had meant to me. In my bag was a pamphlet describing the week I had just experienced. The photograph on the cover showed a large crowd at one of the meetings in an auditorium singing We Shall Overcome. My white face shone like a beacon in the middle of a sea of black faces.

My seat mate spent the first 30 minutes complaining about the influx of Negroes into her city for the past week. After listening to her rant for half an hour, I excused myself to go to the bathroom. It was then that my large bag became visible to her, and I heard her gasp as I left my seat. When I returned she was deep into a book, and I didn’t hear another word from her the rest of the trip.

Shirley W. Mayhew lives in West Tisbury.