Soul Of America






Family outing on a beach in Martha's Vineyard; credit Martha's Vineyard CoC



    About an hour's drive from Boston, the island of Martha's Vineyard is a true New England vacation gem. Naturally beautiful with picturesque cliffs, beautiful beaches, rolling hills, and scenic flatlands, the island is enhanced by warm-to-hot temperatures in the Summer, there is a profusion of color from the diverse tree and plant life in the Fall, crisp air and picturesque snow in the Winter, and the blossoming hues of flora in Spring.

    Martha’s Vineyard encompasses six major towns: Aquinnah (formerly called "Gay Head"), Chilmark, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, West Tisbury, and Vineyard Haven, each possessing its own charm. You’ll find a variety of charming boutiques, antique stores, coffee houses, restaurants, galleries, and intimate bed and breakfast inns, plus scenic bike paths, picturesque walking and nature trails, stately homes, and magnificent beaches. General historical and cultural stops encompass the Flying Horses Carousel, a national landmark; the West and East Chop Lighthouses; Vineyard Museum, and Old Whaling Church, among others.

    Is Martha's Vineyard America’s Black Resort? No, but its distinctly welcoming to Black folks and everyone else. A maritime town, the “Vineyarders” have always reflected a diverse group of cultures: Native Americans, Europeans, and African descendants. The latter contributed greatly to the economic, political, and religious communities here over the past several hundred years. Today they continue to be a significant force in the island’s philanthropic, technological, hospitality, and art communities, making Martha's Vineyard the largest Black resort in the U.S. and one of the top travel destinations for those seeking an Afrocentric resort experience. Summer is a perfect time when it hosts the annual Martha's Vineyard Black Film Festival.

    Over the years there have been many famous Black residents and frequent visitors here like Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Harry Burleigh, William H. Lewis, and Paul Robeson. But it is their predecessors who first placed the island on the “Black map.” For an overall flavor of the island’s Black cultural heritage, follow the African American Heritage Trail. Historical spots include Eastville Cemetery; the Home of Dorothy West, a writer and last surviving member of the Harlem Renaissance; the grave and homestead of Captain William Martin, the island's only African American whaling captain; and Grace Episcopal Church.

    The Cinnamon Traveler is an integrated book, map, and audio-cassette tour created and narrated by Black Vineyarder, Grace Lynis. Beginning as a travel destination review column in a Brooklyn, New York newspaper, the tours later evolved into cultural and heritage tours. As an audio tour, it affords the listener the luxury of exploring and enjoying any aspect at their leisure. In addition to highlighting historically noteworthy locales, Grace also acquaints you with the abundance of African Diaspora businesses: Cousen Rose Gallery (Oak Bluffs), Martha’s Vineyard Bath and Body (Vineyard Haven), Lizzy’s Lagniappe (Oak Bluffs), Allen’s of Nantucket Cashmere (Edgartown), C’est La Vie (Oak Bluffs), Vineyard Sanctum (Oak Bluffs), and others.

Black Inns

    Unlike a number of other areas that were romanticly thought of historically Black Resorts, there are several Black-owned accommodations on the island. In Oak Bluffs, Shearer Cottages originally operated as a laundry, later becoming the first Black-owned guesthouse. Martha’s Vineyard Inn and Martha’s Vineyard Resort & Racquet Club are here as well.

    Doris Clark opened the inn in July of 1991. A Martha’s Vineyard resident most of her life, Doris welcomes “people from all over the world. Everyone tells me they feel like they are part of a family here, and I want them to feel that they are at home.” Twin Oaks is one of the more affordable inns on the island, and has been featured in the New York Times, Black Enterprise, Essence, Pathfinders Travel, and Boston Best Guide. It is also a favorite of former President Clinton’s staff, who first visited the island in 1993.

Dining Out

    For culinary delights, there are several inexpensive diners and restaurants for breakfast or lunch, however dinners can be rather expensive. And all of the towns--except Edgartown and Oak Bluffs--are “dry,” not serving or selling alcohol (although it is customary and acceptable to bring your own).

    Every minute spent at C'est La Vie and Deon's restaurants will be precious memories. Black Vineyarders and visitors have adopted Lola’s Southern Seafood as their favorite. The island spot for fabulous southern cuisine and live music, the interior décor is a cornucopia of wild animal fabrics, voluminous ceilings and expansive windows and elegant lighting in the evening. Lola’s serves fantastic Jambalaya, Lafayette Seafood Etoufee, Stuffed Jumbo Shrimp, Grilled Swordfish, Blackened Catfish, Tortellini Ala Vodka, and of course Vineyard Lobster, among other specialties

Getting Around

    A very popular resort destination and an island without a bridge, Martha’s Vineyard is teeming with people, particularly during the summer. Therefore, it is highly suggested that you travel on-island via public transportation, bike, or on foot. If you must drive, contact the Steamship Authority MONTHS IN ADVANCE to make an automobile reservation.

    Don’t miss Aquinnah with its picturesque cliffs, beaches, and Native American Tribal grounds; Chappaquiddick, a tiny island across the harbor from Edgartown; and West Tisbury with a winery and strawberry and llama farms.

    Martha’s Vineyard is a wonderful New England town rich in African American historic and cultural sites, shops and accommodations, and a relaxing resort atmosphere. Grace says, “Martha’s Vineyard is totally addictive. Ask any visitor, turned Vineyarder, turned Islander.”

Lysa Allman-Baldwin
Thomas Dorsey
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