Photo of Bradley Square Memorial Church courtesy of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum
Oak Bluffs is a diverse community and home to much African American history, as well as dignitaries, politicians, artists, and writers. Oak Bluffs has a large African American community particularly in the summer season when many families vacation along the clean sandy shores of Nantucket Sound. In July and August one of the most popular spots for this vibrant, diverse community is The Inkwell Beach along Beach Road at the bottom of Waban Park. A beautiful swimming spot, the Inkwell has traditionally been a meeting place for African American families and visitors. There is a dawn swimming group and activities continue throughout the day until dark. While not included as a historic point on the trail, it is truly a unique place and deserves note.
There are 7 Heritage Trail Points included in this Oak Bluffs page: the old Eastville Cemetery, Pulpit Rock, the home of Dorothy West, the Shearer Cottage, the Gospel Tabernacle, the Powell Cottage, and the Bradley Memorial Church. We are currently adding Trail Points on the home of Louisa Izett and a bench honoring the African American landladies of Oak Bluffs soon. Other trail sites located in Oak Bluffs are Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and the Isabel and Adam Clayton Powell Cottage.
8. Bradley Memorial ChurchThe Bradley Memorial Church is located on 11 Masonic Avenue. The church provided spiritual guidance, religious education, community development, social life, and involvement in humanitarian causes from 1907-1966. The Reverend Oscar Denniston was the founder and pastor until his death in 1942.
9. The Eastville CemeteryThe Eastville Cemetery is an old cemetery near the shores of the Lagoon Pond that has been sadly neglected. It was the burial place for “mariners from far away”, people of color, and vagrants. Rebecca Michael, mother of Captain William Martin, may possibly have been buried here, and her life is celebrated here by a bench bearing a plaque with her name.
10: Shearer CottageThe Shearer Cottage on Rose Avenue was originally purchased by Charles and Henrietta Shearer from the Baptist Campground. It was originally operated as a laundry, and later became the first African American-owned guest house on Martha’s Vineyard, where people of color were welcome to stay. Adam Clayton Powell was a frequent guest there, as were Henry Burleigh, William H. Lewis, Ethel Waters, and Paul Robeson. The Shearer Cottage is still owned and operated by the Shearer family descendant. You can visit their website here. Here’s an article published by the Martha’s Vineyard Times about the Cottage.
11: The Gospel TabernacleThe Gospel Tabernacle is on Dukes County Avenue. It once served as a church for a congregation of African American people during the mid-20th centrally. The Reverend Charles L. Johnson and his wife, Reverend Scotta Bertha Johnson, ministered to summer congregations. The Powell Cottage, known as “The Bunny Cottage”, was owned by Adam Clayton Powell, the first African American congressman from the east coast since Reconstruction, and also a Reverend at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. He was a highly influential leader of the Democratic majority during the passage of the civil rights legislation of the 1960’s and 1970’s. This home was left to his wife, Isabel W. Powell, following their divorce in 1945. More on the Powell House here. Dorothy West was an African American writer and the last surviving member of the Harlem Renaissance group. She was a member of the Vineyard community for many years. Her home stands on Myrtle Avenue and she also has the distinction of having a nearby street named in her honor. 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.
16: Vila Rosa: The Overton HousePresently the home of the Zila family, this house was once the property of Joe Overton who was a political organizer in Harlem. The house has been magnificently restored to its Victorian grandeur, and Mr. Zila has a guest book that shows that the Overton family entertained such luminaries as Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Jackie Robinson and Harry Belafonte..