The African American Heritage Trail dedicated a new plaque in May 2008, honoring three groundbreaking Vineyard educators: Helen Vanderhoop Manning Murray, Rufus Shorter, and Robert Tankard.
The plaque, located at the office of the Martha’s Vineyard Superintendent of Schools on Pine Street in Vineyard Haven, is the 21st site on the trail that marks the achievements of African Americans in Island history.
Helen Vanderhoop Manning Murray, who died Jan. 25 at 89 years old is legendary as a Wampanoag/African American educator, mentor, and role model. She taught at Gay Head’s one-room schoolhouse during the 1950s and 1960s and was a special education teacher at the Oak Bluffs School from 1968 until 1984. Ms. Murray served on many committees and was director of education for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head.
Rufus Shorter became the first African American superintendent of Vineyard schools in 1976, and served until his death in 1980. He came to the post after a rich career in education, first as a teacher and then an administrator in the New York City school system.
Mr. Shorter was the Island’s first African American superintendent, but even more importantly he was primarily instrumental in building the addition to the regional high school, working closely with principal Greg Scotten and bank president Bill Honey. The benefits of that addition included the expansion of the culinary arts and automotive trades departments and the creation of the performing arts center. It did not only benefit the school but it benefited the larger community.
Robert Tankard served as principal of the West Tisbury School from 1993 until his retirement in 2001. He grew up on the Vineyard, attended Island schools, and for 20 years was the health and physical education teacher at the Tisbury School.
“It never hit me that I was the first black principal or that there would be any repercussions. The West Tisbury School Committee was so open and accepting. There was a small group against my hiring, but there were so many more supporters. We made it and we had a great run. It is a time I’ll remember and cherish all my life.”