Forum would exclude black visitors


To the Editor:

The Oak Bluffs Board of Selectmen failed again to muster moral courage this past Tuesday, as they continue to fret over how to respond to the local NAACP’s request to remove two plaques honoring Confederate soldier located on public land, maintained with public dollars. My sense is the Board’s hastiness in deciding to hold a public forum in a month’s time flies in the face of fundamental fairness. Their timetable totally excludes an important missing voice — thousands of black taxpaying vacationers who, according to the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce bring in an estimated $30 million-plus when they converge on Martha’s Vineyard every July and August. One would think Oak Bluffs would be appreciative of this black customer base, who, drawn places like its historically-black Inkwell Beach, help fill its tax coffers. Instead though, this all-white, predominantly-male board has decided to eliminate the input of black visitors, most of whom don’t arrive until late summer. Given Tuesday’s decision, elected officials will leave the discussion on this racially-charged issue up to town residents, 90 percent of which are white, and less than five percent black. Mind you, all of this is done with an eye toward a possible ballot referendum this fall, again when black taxpayers aren’t on the Island. Talk about taxation without representation. Talk about voter suppression. Talk about disenfranchisement. The only silver lining for me, as a black seasonal visitor, is learning from Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake no official paperwork is required if one wants to stage a protest at the statue over the Confederate plaques this August.

Clennon L. King


  1. Clennon — I have spent a fair amount of time in Jamaica as a white tourist spending money there. A common word when parting ways with someone is “respect” . You correctly point out that many people of color ( many of them property owners here) come to the island in the summer. But many people of no color ( many of them property owners here) also come to the island in the summer.
    I would suspect that the number of people of no color actually outnumber the people of color who reside in Oak Bluffs in the summer. I think your argument , while heart felt is without merit.
    The issue about removal of the plaques should not be about how many voters of color there are vs. how many voters of no color there are in a particular town at a particular time– it is about respect. The plaque is about respect– it was put up by Union soldiers to honor their defeated advisory. Make no mistake, very few of the confederate soldiers were slave owners. If we cannot respect and forgive them, we should remove the likenesses of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson from our currency. Over 25 % of former U.S presidents owned slaves at one time or another.
    This , to me, is not a black or white issue– it is about respect. The plaques show respect– Everyone that died in the civil war ( well , perhaps there were a few non Americans) was an American, bravely fighting for their cause ( and there were many more issues than whether a few wealthy people should own slaves). With all due respect, Clennon, I think you are focusing too much on color, and not enough on merit, and of course, Respect.

    • There are no people of “no color”. Everyone has a race. Everyone has a color. This kind of idea is one of the barriers to clear thinking on race. Race is not something that others have. We all have it and it affects us all.

  2. Curious not curious that one defense of southern racism has not presented here: northerners were racists, too. Simple respect for people of color, allow them the liberty of living without the visual reminder that at one time a segment of the population considered them less them human, and perhaps that segment still does. With every argument for keeping the plaques, the statue appears to have been an agreement by good ol’ boys of the north agreeing with those from the south that racism is welcome on the Vineyard. But be honest, if the Constitution is a subject in school, switch it to foreign studies.

  3. I agree with Don on everything but his conclusion. It is not about money but respect. Out of respect for responsible members of our community, lead by Mr Blake and Mr King, the plaques should be placed in the Museum. I would rather pay respect to the living, breathing, and contributing members of the community than people who are long gone and had no connection to the Island.

    • t2 — the monument was put up by a vineyarder, the plaques put there by union soldiers who lived on the Vineyard. I think that’s a “connection” to the island.
      Just because someone is deceased does not mean we should not respect them.

      • Why would there not be continued respect? Preserving in a museum is respectful. They are not to be destroyed.

  4. There comes a time when privileged (white) people need to be quiet, pay attention, and listen carefully. I say this as a white person. Clennan King is absolutely correct here. Unless you know how it feels to be a descendent of slaves, and to see, in a town you cherish, a plaque honoring those who stood and fought (and died) for slavery, just be quiet, please. I usually agree with Don, but not now. Spending time as a white guy in Jamaica, does not give you any moral authority on this matter. NONE. The plaques should be removed to the museum. Why on earth would anyone think it is okay for our black community, whether full-time or part-time, to suffer the pain of seeing these plaques on the town’s public land, still honoring, in effect, slavery?

    A few years back there was an autumn, island-wide food festival. It began with a big community dinner on a Friday evening and went on with food-related festivities all day Saturday, ending on Saturday night. There was a built-in raindate scheduled for that Sunday. In planning the festivities, no one checked a calendar and realized that the entire event coincided exactly Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for the miniority Jewish community, a day of fasting and quiet self-reflection, from sundown to sundown, the exact time of this celebration-of-food festival. It was an unfortunate error on the part of the planners– an error which could have been remedied by switching everything to the next day, Sunday, the day they had scheduled in case of rain. But the planners refused, held the big festival on Yom Kippur, and virutally exclused every practicing Jew on the island. I spoke up loudly against the poor planning and, what was worse, the ultimate poor decision-making of this food group. Do you know how many white, mostly all male (non-Jews) told me to be quiet, it was just a mistake, I was taking things too seriously, I can go next year, there are all kinds of things people can’t go to because they have something more important, etc, etc? There was not one single Jewish person, however, who disagreed with me. The food festival goes on each year, and so does Yom Kippur, but they do not coincide, maybe because there was a loud condemnation of the poor planning and poor decision not to switch to date. People, in the end, listened.

    Like I said, sometimes the privileged majority needs to listen… Stop talking, stop making excuses, and do what you know is right.

    • Jackie– I was not claiming any moral authority, just asking for some respect. It’s not like these plaques were put there by Nazi’s glorifying slavery.. They were put there by people who watched their friends die at the hands of the confederate soldiers that they chose to forgive, honor, and respect.
      Both sides , after all, were all cannon fodder for the ambitions of a ruling class.

      • And Nazis were human beings just carrying out their orders. It’s fine to forgive. Just don’t ask or assume others have to forgive in the white way you want them to, especially if their family trees are stumps. Put the forgiveness in the forgiveness museum. And don’t make light of a what a group has endured, and still suffers, when you have no idea what it’s like. How much easier it is for a white guy to empathize with the white guys who wanted to forgive and pay homage to those who fought and died FOR slavery, instead of thinking more about our current black community whose ancestors were slaves. Your ‘respect’ has a white perspective. Give it a little more color to get a fuller picture.

  5. The minority grievance industry should aim higher than little old plaques, and get after the really big symbols of oppression. And spread their outrage worldwide. Good grief, there’s offensive stuff everywhere that needs removing. Take those darn Pyramids, for instance. They have got to go! Talk about horrific legacy. And how about that Colosseum. Talk about a painful reminder (right in the middle of town no less). But, as can be noted here, the mission to revise history depends on constant hectoring from self-righteous victim card players… in this latest edition, the public scolding of elected leaders about moral courage and fundamental fairness. Yep, stick to issuing threats and assignments of guilt until the unwashed heed the virtuous. And if by chance no chasm exists, by all means create one!

  6. Oh boy. Oldfarmguy makes some thoughtful points.
    Well first off, Mr. King seems to only see in terms of race and assumes those of certain races must have a predisposition for thinking a certain way. I think there is a word for that…
    Jackie telling white people not to comment on an issue because they are white kinda goes along the same line…and truly widens a different form of chasm.
    I find Mr. King’s public threats and comments to be ridiculous at best, and this letter just a tool to fan the flames. If he actually believes this about the OB selectman than I don’t think it wise to listen to many other of his beliefs.
    Furthermore I am much more interested in our elected leaders opinions, and our island community’s opinions rather than tourists, no matter what color they are.
    I wonder if Mr. King has ever visited the Gettysburg peace memorial. I also wonder if he has ever served. Not that either answer disqualify his opinion, I think he’s done enough of that by his own public comment.

    • I understand, Driller. It is quite impossible for certain people in particular to fathom the idea that just maybe they should be quiet, even for just 5 minutes, so that they could listen and really hear, and then imagine what it’s like to walk to someone’s else’s shoes, someone who does not think like a privileged white male who knows everything worth knowing.

    • I don’t think we are talking about tourists. I believe we are talking about long time summer residents and homeowners.

  7. I totally agree with Clennon and Jackie. They both make excellent points. Until the words on the plaque, “IN HONOR OF THE CONFEDERATE SOLDIERS” are removed, this issue will continue to plague Oak Bluffs and the island. I usually agree with Don also, but not in this case. If you follow his logic then German people should respect the Nazis because they were fellow Germans fighting for a cause and they also shouldn’t be opposed to a statue of a Nazi in their town with a plaque that reads, “IN HONOR OF THE NAZI SOLDIERS.” Give me a break! Very similar atrocities were practiced in both of those regimes. I’m all for forgiveness and respect when it’s merited, but certainly not in those cases. Just change the wording on the plaque to “IN HONOR OF ALL THE INNOCENT SOULS WHO DIED,” and let us move on and “Do what you know is right.”

    • pp– I would be ok with a new plaque that honored all sides of the conflict.
      My logic is a little more complex than you imply. The nazi’s were quite different than confederate soldiers, and to compare them is insulting to many a good southerner. There were actually “good people on both sides” of the civil war.

  8. Any time the use of a quote from Donald Trump (There were actually “good people on both sides”) is used in a comment to support your or others opinions it defeats the purpose of you writing in for your lost cause.

    • Andrew– there were no “good people” carrying confederate and Nazi flags chanting “Jews will not replace us “

    • teehump. I don’t think my cause is lost. I know about “Godwin’s law”. I find it interesting that if I quote trump, it defeats my cause. I think I see a comparison here. There are after all, many similarities between the 2 individuals in question here. Perhaps I could advance “don’s law”, that states that the first person to criticize trump in any given argument has more morality and intelligence than the opposing side.

  9. Teehump if you looked carefully at how many and who were represented on both sides at Charlottesville you would have to agree that not all of them were racists on either side. There were over one thousand people there. As for Jackie making confederates and Nazis equivalent even the crows will laugh.

    • Never mind people carrying Confederate flags and people carrying Nazi flags were marching together. So that argument fails. As for claiming some of the people on the side carrying Nazi flags were good people, what patriot would march under a Nazi flag? They’ve positioned themselves with a WW2 enemy of America, one that killed our soldiers.

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