15: The Landladies of Oak Bluffs
By MVRHS Student Matt Menne, 2007
1890’s – 1930’s
Even though Oak Bluffs was a safer place for African Americans to be, there were still limits on their rights. In some parts of Oak Bluffs there were laws that said that certain property could only be owned by whites. At 121 Lower Circuit, Mrs. Georgia O’Brien and Ms. Louisa Izett ran a guest house for people of color. In those times, the the inn was known as Aunt Georgia’s House. It is now known as the Tivoli Inn.
Restrictions on Places to Live
Even though people of color were allowed to own land, the town put restrictions on the areas in which they were allowed to do so. Circuit Avenue was one area where blacks were “urged” to live rather than the Methodist Camp Grounds.
A Place to Put Your Head
At the foot of Circuit in the bustling seasonal town, Georgia O’Brien and Louisa Izett ran this guest quarters for African Americans at seven dollars a week for room and board. However, if a person only had 5 dollars they would take it because they cared about them.
Staying at Aunt Georgia’s House
People of color had to make their own entertainment at Aunt Georgia’s House. They were not welcomed in the restaurants and hotels that white people were allowed to attend. So, they had card parties and dances, and famous people like Adam Clayton Powell, would regularly attend them. (Ora McFarlane, September 2000)
1930’s Bring New Opportunities
After the collapse of Wall Street in 1929, many owners of summer homes on the Vineyard had to sell. When houses became available in the area of Lower Circuit Ave, people of color bought many of them. Many African American women opened boarding houses that allowed people of color to become part of the community.
The women who followed in Mrs. O’Brien and Miss Izett’s foot steps were responsible for the economic vitality of Oak Bluffs. Because of them, People of Color were able to live, work, and vacation in Oak Bluffs.