The year 2009 marks several important milestones: the inauguration of the first African-American President of the United States; the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln; and the 80th birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. And 100 years ago, on February 12, 1909, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) was founded.
On Monday, Jan.19, the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was particularly meaningful this year, held just one day before the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
The excitement was palpable at the Oyster Bar Grill in Oak Bluffs on Monday, where NAACP of Martha's Vineyard hosted its annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Membership and Award Brunch. Members and friends gathered at 10 am, and the conversations inevitably turned to the historic significance of the time.
Photos by Ralph Stewart
As described by chapter president Laurie Perry-Henry, the NAACP was founded by a multi-ethnic group of progressive thinkers who came together to work for justice and freedom. "We still have a long way to go," she said, "but Obama is the poster person for our generation."
In the midst of change and transition, she emphasized the importance of educating young people: "Economic and social issues are replacing the racial issues of the past."
Pastor Marsha Buckley of the Apostolic House of Prayer, chair of the Religious Affairs Committee, also spoke of seeing children pick up the torch. She said, "We need unity in order to fulfill Dr. King's dream. We need teamwork."
The event's featured speaker was Major General Joseph C. Carter, who has traveled a path of successes through the Massachusetts Army National Guard, eventually becoming the first African American to take over command of the Massachusetts Guard, serving on the Boston Police force, and coming to Martha's Vineyard as the chief of the Oak Bluffs Police Department.
Gen. Carter opened by asking who among the attendees would have predicted that the Governor of our Commonwealth would be an African American, and in the same short span of time, that our new president would have achieved such support and trust and confidence of the American people. "We have such hope for change," he said, "the progress of the whole human race - all manner of people. Common decency is at the core of our country. In the year that we celebrate both the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth, we inaugurate our new president. The future that Lincoln foresaw is still unfolding."
He reflected on the heritage of Martha's Vineyard as, "a haven that attracts everyone," and spoke of the long history of African Americans here, from days of slavery and indentured servitude through to 1873, when Massachusetts abolished slavery. Many stayed on Martha's Vineyard as fishermen, captains of whaling ships, or blacksmiths. The African American presence continued to be part of Island history as many blacks bought their vacation homes here. "A kind of competition developed between groups to see which could make the most impressive improvements to their homes," Mr. Carter noted.
Again, he pointed out the importance of honoring the legacy of Dr King at this new threshold. "We must recommit to the core values of justice, freedom, and equality," he said.
Chris Murphy, a member of the NAACP since the 1960s, explained that there were many more young people involved in those days, especially high school students. And, he said, it was several years after the NAACP became more and more active on Martha's Vineyard that African Americans finally outnumbered all other members of the organization. "We need to get the kids involved again," he said, emphasizing that, to achieve our goals, we must include the generations to come.
Mary-Jean Miner, a former staff member of The Martha's Vineyard Times, is a freelance writer living in Tisbury.