Martha’s Vineyard has a rich and diverse history with people of color. During Black History month, we are taking a look at different interesting parts of the story from today back thru island history. This week our Black History MV series looks at a new digital tour App with a Martha’s Vineyard focus and a Vineyard author. Black History MV: African American History Tour Of Oak Bluffs, written by island author Tom Dresser.
Black History MV: African American History Tour Of Oak Bluffs – Taking The Built Story App Tour
There is a new story-telling App called Built Story which offers self-guided tours of noteworthy places, including right here, in Oak Bluffs. The African American History Tour Of Oak Bluffs consists of 16 historically significant properties that are part of the Black history of Oak Bluffs.
The properties were chosen by Tom Dresser, and he also wrote the text for the tour. But wait, what about the Martha’s Vineyard African American Heritage Trail? This tour is not a substitute for that one, which features 31 stops and continues all over Martha’s Vineyard, and is also an interactive, guide-led, live tour. However, this tour is something you could do whenever you wanted. It encompasses 16 stops within three miles, and you can walk, ride your bike, or drive this tour.
You download the Built Story app, click here to learn more. Then you add the town you’re interested in learning about. I typed in Oak Bluffs and the African American History Tour of Oak Bluffs came up in my search. The tour is $10 and can be used for up to 30 days. So, you could do the tour in different parts if you wanted to.
Black History MV: African American History Tour Of Oak Bluffs – Some Stops On The Tour
Your starting point is the Senator Brooke House on Nashawena Avenue. Senator Brook was the first African American to win a senate seat. He was also the first African American to be an Attorney General, holding that position in Massachusetts in 1962. A trailblazer in the community, he vacationed at this home for many years.
The tour goes on to Inkwell Beach, then on to two houses on Seaview Avenue. Villa Rosa is a well-known house in the Black history of the Island (dedicated to the frequent visitor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr). It is one of my favorite houses on that street. Next to it is the Governor Claflin House, these days it’s the Oak House.
This was a new historical find for me. According to the tour, Governor Claflin was an abolitionist and well-known philanthropist along with his son.
The Governor helped fund and create Claflin University in 1869 in South Carolina, and on the Claflin University, I found this: With “the only admission requirements for prospective students being the possession of good moral character and a conscientious desire to learn,” Claflin University offered, for the first time in South Carolina, quality higher education for men and women “regardless of race, complexion, or religious opinion.” How progressive for the Claflin men to create such a place of learning during this time in American history.
As you continue on, you are brought to Cottagers’ Corner. This is the home of The Cottagers. Founded in 1956, this philanthropic group of Black women continues to do work to support their community. To learn more, you can read Black History MV: The Cottagers Inc Of Martha’s Vineyard.
There are two more places that we will share. The rest, you’ll have to discover on your own by taking the tour for yourself. First – the Landladies Cottages. Two sisters had houses that provided housing for fellow African Americans who were in need of a place to stay. One of the houses remains an Inn still until this day, the Tivoli Inn. Something noteworthy to mention, there is a very special bench that sits across the street from the homes in Hiawatha Park.
Though I learned many more things along the way, the last stop on the tour, site of the former Baptist Tabernacle really moved me. I am not going to give the full story away, but in the space located in the Highlands area of Oak Bluffs, there once stood a large wooden Baptist Tabernacle which burned down in 1944.
The foundation is still visible, and there is something about this once holy space. I found it eerie yet beautiful. It was also a perfect spot to reflect upon all of that I had just learned over the hour (now referred to as the Baptist Temple Park).
Writing this series about Black History on Martha’s Vineyard has been educational, and it is amazing how much history can be found on the shores of this special Island. If you want to learn more, we encourage you to explore Black History on Martha’s Vineyard not only with this brief tour, but with The Martha’s Vineyard African American Heritage Trail, the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, and by reading books by authors like Skip Finley and Tom Dresser.
*Author’s Note: One thing I would mention about the tour, I wish that it was a vocal narration along with the text. I really wanted to hear the history as I walked around each location.
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