Young children gather along Inkwell Beach and play together in the warm ocean spray. Soon after, their respective families get to know each other and so begins a cherished summer tradition.

In the Oak Bluffs area of ​​Martha’s Vineyard, the Inkwell, as it’s affectionately known, has long been a summer destination for black families. the area has even been listed in The Negro Motorist’s Green Book, a travel guide for African American families on vacation popular from the 1940s to the 1960s. It remains a favorite today and presents a refreshing alternative narrative to the black experience often portrayed in mainstream media. Here you will find black travelers who return to a summer haven generation after generation and forge bonds with one another.

In recent decades, Martha’s Vineyard (and more specifically, Oak Bluffs) has also become known as a favorite getaway for the black elite, with many prominent members of the community – from the late Maya Angelou and Oprah to Spike Lee and the Obamas – on vacation. or buy houses here. Hollywood celebrities such as Regina King and Jennifer Hudson attended the annual Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival, which is in its 22n/a year. In popular culture, the destination has been portrayed as a hub for wealthy black families in films such as The wedding (with Halle Berry) and Jump the broom (with Angela Bassett), and on TV shows like ABC’s current hit our kind of peopleproduced by Lee Daniels.

Some of Oak Bluff’s historic gingerbread cottages, first owned by black families

Courtesy of P. Simon

Today’s thriving community has its roots in the fact that the island has long been considered a safe and welcoming place for black families on vacation. But it’s hard to pinpoint precisely what makes him feel that way. That may be partly because Massachusetts was the first state to abolish slavery, or because of its isolated geography as an island, speculates Skip Finley, a prominent author, historian and former director of the broadcasting and longtime resident of the island.

“You can live your life here,” Finley remarks. “You can forget about all those other characterizations. You don’t need that armor here on Martha’s Vineyard. In the rest of America, walking the streets, shopping, you have to be aware of the fact that you are Black. If you like fishing and you come to Martha’s Vineyard and you’re black, that won’t be a problem.

Martha's Vineyard Historic Black Travelers

Black residents and visitors in the 1870s

Courtesy of Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce

The first black people to arrive at Martha’s Vineyard were in fact indentured servants, whalers and domestic workers. On their days off, the women would congregate in the enclave of Oak Bluffs, where some families ended up buying property when they could afford it. Each summer, more and more black people, from Boston, New York and other areas, began to come during the seasonal holidays.

Known as the Gingerbread Houses for their colorful, pastel-hued exteriors, some of these historic Oak Bluffs homes now operate as bed-and-breakfast style inns, including the 10-hour Oak Bluffs Inn. bedrooms and the 14-bedroom Narragansett House. The latter, operated by a family that spends the summer here across generations, celebrates its multicultural and multiracial heritage by hosting events such as “musical aperitifs” and a series of “Inkwell Talks” led by renowned authors, national magazine publishers. and prominent residents.

Spike Lee Martha's Vineyard

Spike Lee at the Island African American Film Festival

By Mr. Bossman

You’ll find other historic homes, such as Shearer Cottage, Dorothy West Home, and Land Ladies, on the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Heritage Trail, which includes 35 historically significant sites on the island that can be visited in half a drive. time. -day trip. The trail was started in 1998 by history teacher Dr. Elaine Weintraub and Carrie Camillo Tankard, who have also worked to introduce more people of color history to Martha’s Vineyard schools.

In recent years, the duo have seen more interest in the trail from all communities, not just African Americans, notes Camillo Tankard, who has lived on the island since 1967. “I wanted to leave a legacy to my children,” she adds. , explaining the desire to research and create the trail. “There are many visits; people want to see the Kennedy properties. We think it is important to see the areas where black people have also contributed on the island. (Reinforcing its historical significance, the community of Oak Bluffs is also recognized in a permanent exhibit titled power of place at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.)

Martha's Vineyard family reunion

A multigenerational family reunion on the beach

By D. Welch

MV Escapes, a BIPOC-owned business specializing in concierge services and event planning, has also seen growing interest from a wide range of clients in everything from home rentals to private tours. For their clients, MV Escapes can arrange activities such as horseback riding and golf lessons, as well as help them find the perfect vacation rental or coordinate a wedding or corporate retreat.

Co-founder Carol Bliss Furr agrees that the welcoming vibe is a major draw for locals and visitors alike. “Some customers have told us they’ve never seen this kind of environment,” she says. “Everyone comes and everyone feels they can be a part of it.” Furr, who grew up coming to the island and then continued to bring her own children, has been a year-round resident for 11 years and still going. “It’s a safe place. It’s a place where kids can go and explore without feeling threatened by the outside world. They make friends for life.

Martha's Vineyard Harbor View Hotel

The Harbor View Hotel is an Obama favorite.

Courtesy Harbor View Hotel

Furr confirms that the Inkwell is not to be missed, but one of his other picks for first-time visitors to the island is Chapoquoit Beach, known to locals as Chappy. Once there, don’t miss the beautiful Japanese-style Mytoi Gardens nearby, she notes. Meanwhile, for unique women’s clothing, she recommends upscale boutique Ethos and BIPOC-owned C’est La Vie for gifts.

General Manager Scott Little of the 117-room Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown — a place the Obamas are known to frequent and which is housed in a newly renovated historic Victorian property — echoes a similar sentiment about the Isle. “The vast majority of people who come to Martha’s Vineyard, of all nationalities and colors, come because it’s a destination they feel comfortable in and is proactively welcoming,” says Little. “People don’t appreciate wealth here; they value privacy and non-judgment.

Martha's Vineyard, owner of Lennox & Harvey

Mark Chung and Eric Coles, owners of Lennox & Harvey

Courtesy of Lennox & Harvey

Case in point: Lennox & Harvey owners Eric Coles and Mark Chung, who had been coming to the island in the summer for about 25 years. They finally moved here in 2017 and opened their very neat modern version of a general store in nearby Vineyard Haven. Named after their grandfathers, who were themselves creative and design-savvy, BIPOC’s popular store offers men’s and women’s clothing as well as finds like woven wallets made from Japanese ikat fabric, sunglasses Izipizi sun and Alessi picnic baskets.

Martha's Vineyard Outdoor Inn

A taste of what’s on offer at the Outermost Inn

Courtesy Outermost Inn

Once they moved to the island full-time, Coles and Chung realized how united it really was. “It’s a very strong community that looks out for each other in a way that only small towns, or certain areas of big cities, seem to do,” Coles shares.

To get a sense of that inclusive atmosphere, Coles and Chung suggest heading to one of their own favorites, Outermost Inn. “The island is not about formality, but the most ‘formal’ of all restaurants would be Outermost Inn, not in the traditional sense but in that it is often a restaurant for special occasions” , says Cole. “It is located at the westernmost point and the most remote part of Aquinnah Island, formerly known as Gay Head. Since it’s so far away for most islanders, it’s usually a place to go to celebrate something. The ocean view is spectacular, so go in time to see the sunset.

Michael Johnson Inkwell Beach Martha's Vineyard

A photo of the Inkwell Beach swimmers from the Michael Johnson Photo Gallery

By Michael Johnson

Some of their other suggestions include Le Toile for classic French dishes; Gray Barn & Farm, which offers cheese and charcuterie tastings in a beautifully restored barn; and Knowhere Gallery, in Oak Bluffs, for contemporary art. Other works of art can be found at the Michael Johnson Photo Gallery, where Harlem-born photographer Johnson, who spends half the year on the island, showcases his iconic photos of Inkwell Beach and its regular “polar bear” swimmers. One shot in particular stands out: a beautiful black and white image of a group of these fearless swimmers in the water with their hands raised in the air. It’s an encapsulation of what Coles describes as the “overall feeling of joy” of being here, the same feeling that keeps visitors coming back.