Oak Bluffs shuts out NAACP from meeting agenda

At issue is a request to fly the Juneteenth flag.

A request to fly the Juneteenth flag at Ocean Park won't even get a hearing. -Creative Commons

The NAACP Martha’s Vineyard branch issued a statement on Tuesday asserting that the Oak Bluffs select board has refused to hear a request to raise the Juneteenth flag in recognition of the federal holiday on Sunday.

“The NAACP Martha’s Vineyard branch is very disappointed that the Oak Bluffs select board has chosen not to even hear the request to raise the Juneteenth flag,” said NAACP President Arthur Hardy-Doubleday in the release. “Juneteenth has long had deep significance to African Americans and to the Oak Bluffs community, and this year for the first time it’s being celebrated as both a federal and a state holiday. We believe that the town of Oak Bluffs should be observing it too.”

In its previous meetings, the select board has mulled over a proposed, and later approved, flag policy, which as written, states that the town would prohibit any flags, other than those approved by the select board — flags of the U.S., commonwealth of Massachusetts, town of Oak Bluffs, and official military and POW-MIA — from being raised on any town property.

The board approved the policy after igniting another controversy with the NAACP over flying the Progress Pride flag. The board ultimately approved flying that flag for the first couple of weeks of June, but later board members expressed regret about that decision.

The NAACP MV branch was looking to fly the flag at Ocean Park from June 17 to June 20. 

Hardy-Doubleday told The Times during a phone conversation that he thinks the City of Boston Supreme Court case regarding the flying of a religious flag at City Hall may have given municipal governments a reason to pause on establishing a flag policy. “But the upholding of that case is very much in line with what the pre-existing law is, which is that a flagpole is not subject to the freedom of speech doctrine — it is government speech,” Hardy-Doubleday said. “Unlike Boston, where anyone could apply, including a credit union, to get their flag raised, the Supreme Court is very clear that as long as you have proper oversight of it as a government, you can pick and choose who is and who is not able to raise their flags.”

Hardy-Doubleday wondered why the select board was not able to get the discussion on the meeting agenda, even though he said he spoke with chair Ryan Ruley on May 19, who asked if the MV NAACP would like to be on the agenda for a May 24 meeting. Hardy-Doubleday said he declined to request that the flag discussion be on that agenda, because he wanted to research the Supreme Court City of Boston ruling more. “What happened between May 10 when the select board adopted their interim policy and the meeting of June 9? It might just be that they don’t want to deal with the issue publicly — they would much rather just have a policy that prohibits it across the board,” Hardy-Doubleday said. “What they are forgetting is that we are in the business of welcoming people to this Island. We have over 100 years of history of welcoming African Americans to Oak Bluffs. If they are going to have a gospel brunch at the Edgartown Yacht Club, of all places, why can we not raise our Juneteenth flag on the Ocean Park flagpole?”

He added that this is the second year in a row where the town of Chilmark hasn’t responded to the MV NAACP request to discuss flags, but “at least this year they adopted a policy making it clear that it’s only the American flag.”

To Hardy-Doubleday, the refusal is “symbolic of small thinking,” saying that he was looking forward to taking a picture of the Juneteenth flag flying proudly in front of the Civil War memorial. “We are trying to put up a flag that symbolizes African Americans as Americans — it’s literally a red, white, and blue flag,” Hardy-Doubleday said. 

Select board chair Ryan Ruley deferred to correspondence from town administrator Deborah Potter stating that the select board “respectfully declines” to add the Juneteenth flag discussion to the agenda due to the existing flag policy.

At the select board meeting Tuesday, board members got some pushback from a longtime resident.

After patiently waiting for over two hours, Oak Bluffs resident Russell Ashton stood before the board during the allotted time for public comment. 

Ashton introduced himself, noting he’s been at his Oak Bluffs residence for 35 years, and has served on numerous town boards. Select board chair Ryan Ruley asked, “What is the problem?”

Ashton replied, “The problem is, the pride that has been stripped from the people of Oak Bluffs. The pride of raising the Juneteenth flag, for all the things people of color have been through, to have the success to put that flag up on that pole, and it was ripped from them, after all these years.” 

Ashton spoke of his deep roots on the Island, and how his mother would have been “so proud to have looked up — and I know they would be looking down [from heaven] — at that flag flying.”

Directly to the select board, Ashton acknowledged the work that they do for the town, but “this one you failed on,” he said. “You’ve failed the people of color that come here to celebrate their heritage.”

He continued, emphatically stating, “People can make changes, people can say, ‘Let’s fly that flag.’” On comments made earlier by select board member Emma Green-Beach concerning having been present at the recent Progress Pride flag-raising ceremony at Ocean Park — and how she felt it was a profound, and “respectful” moment, Ashton suggested a reflection on those feelings, noting the same would be true for Juneteenth. 

“You stripped the people of their pride in Oak Bluffs,” adding that he is “ashamed” of the board. Ashton said he hoped the select board would reconsider the request by the NAACP. “Let’s make history,” he said. “That is real history, because [African Americans] suffered, and they came to this Island to make it great for you and for me.” 

The board did not respond to Ashton’s comments.


Abigail Rosen contributed to this report. 


  1. OB Selectboard, “respectfully declines” to even discuss this request. Where’s the respect in that?

  2. I knew the OB selectmen blew it right off the bat as I watched them “Opened the door then after thinking about it Closed the Door” on this flag issue there.
    Im with the Chilmark`s decision and I hope Tisbury doesnt have to deal with all of this!
    The OB selectmen already `Dismantled` some of the OB Civil War statue when put under pressure.

    • They didn’t “dismantle some of the OB Civil War statue”. They removed a plaque honoring civil war soldiers and donated it to the MV Museum, where it is on full display for anyone who wants to see it.

  3. It seems people can make up any narrative they want the majority of people still do not even know what Juneteenth is all about. It is another holiday so public officials can get the day off and the taxpayer pays. I suppose it’s OK as with most of the other holidays the majority do not celebrate what the holiday is about they just determine it’s another day for a drink and food with pay. Let’s see how many employers on the island give people the Day off with pay.

    • Per Wikipedia: “Juneteenth (officially Juneteenth National Independence Day, and also known as, Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Black Independence Day) is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating emancipation of enslaved African Americans. It is also often observed for celebrating African-American culture. Originating in Galveston, Texas, it has been celebrated annually on June 19 in various parts of the United States since 1865…”

    • There are actually many wonderful cultural events taking place on the Island to celebrate Juneteenth. If you attended you could learn about the history of Oak Bluffs and it’s significance for the African American Community and the Island. Oak Bluffs was planned as an inclusive community based haven. Celebrating Juneteenth on the Island has deep roots and meaning.

    • The majority of the people should know what Juneteenth is about.
      The educated do.
      They have studied slavery.
      They celebrate it’s end.
      Do you?

    • Bob– I would hypothesize that the great majority of people of color know what Juneteenth is, while a significant portion of people who have some racist tendencies ( to put it politely) choose to remain willfully ignorant as to the meaning of this holiday.
      And since you seem to be whining about taxpayers footing the bill for a holiday, I wonder of you have considered that every single person who is getting a paid day off is in fact a taxpayer.
      As a Pastafarian, I could whine about people getting paid to take Christmas off, but I accept that this country recognizes many diverse views, customs and causes.

  4. NAACP President Arthur Hardy-Doubleday apparently doesn’t know when no is no. The Select board has previously made a decision regarding flags which he was also involved in. One of two things are true, Hardy-Doubleday has a really poor memory or he’s trying to stir up controversy where none exists.

    • Mr. Axel, have you actually read the OB selectboard’s interim flag policy? It doesn’t prohibit anything. This is what section 2.2.C. says: “The flags approved by the Select Board to be flown are the Flag of the United States of America, the flag of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the flag of the Town of Oak Bluffs, official flags of the U.S. Military, and the POW-MIA flag.” This states the situation when the interim policy was enacted last month.

      An ad hoc committee has been meeting to consider changes to the flag policy. Among other things, it is looking at the flag policies of other municipalities. This takes time, but since Juneteenth was coming up fast, it made sense to submit a request to fly the Juneteenth flag June 17 through 20, when Juneteenth events are taking place in Oak Bluffs and elsewhere on the island. But Ryan Ruley, selectboard chair, refused to even put the request on the agenda. What was he afraid of?

      Having been at the (long!) selectboard meeting where the flying of the Progress Pride flag was approved, I have an idea. That meeting drew a diverse, standing-room-only crowd, many of whom spoke eloquently in support of the flag. The selectboard voted 4–1 to permit the Progress Pride flag to be flown June 1–14. Was Mr. Ruley perhaps afraid that the same thing would happen again — that he could come up with no good reason NOT to fly the Juneteenth flag?

  5. You either have to put up every cause/groups flag or none of them. I would be consistent and not fly any groups flag.

  6. Juneteenth is actually a very important day in the history of the United States, and has been celebrated by many people across the country since 1867. The fact that you and many other people don’t know about it is a statement on the history that has NOT been taught in our country. The majority of Americans who DO know what it means DO celebrate & honor it. It’s about time it became a national holiday, to bring it’s meaning into our collective consciousness.

  7. Well was not that slick? I have my three different flags I was expecting to fly for two weeks at a time. Now I can’t! I thought all inclusive meant everybody Oak Bluffs! Gee, so one group got to fly their flag, have a big party and that’s it! No one else? THAT IS DISCRIMINATION!

  8. I wonder how the schools in some states explain this one to the kids. They are, after all, forbidden to mention anything that might make a privileged white child feel “uncomfortable”, and have had any discussion about slavery “cancelled”.
    Some people actually believe that “critical race theory” is something that is actually real.

    • Don,

      CRT Is actually real. There are several books written about it and the authors have been interviewed on CNN, NBC, ABC and several other news outlets. What is being debated and rightfully so is the age appropriateness of the subject and the training of the teachers who are moderating the topic. It’s a complicated and emotional topic that should be discussed and debated freely without being labeled one way or the other. Clearly we see Colleges and Universities having difficult times moderating talks without some people being offended to point of shutting down opposing viewpoints. Some of my fondest memories were staying up all night with friends and family talking about things today that makes peoples heads explode. And we are all still friends.

        • John, seriously, what are the legitimate sources?
          Fox News said that Trump was a loser in the 2020 election.

          • CNN has lower ratings than the Cartoon Network. Not sure why because all of their anchors are cartoon characters!

        • Lol. I’m not saying that at all. I’m not sure what a legitimate news source is today. MV Times excluded of course.

          • Albert,
            I look for excellence but I read the MV Times mostly for the comments. There is such a difference in political thoughts that find both entertaining and thought provoking. So thank you for contributing.

      • CRT exists in Law Schools, no where else. What the right is claiming is CRT is actually just HISTORY!

    • Critical Race Theory (CRT) is most definitely real. It is taught in universities, often at the graduate level, and especially in law schools. It is not taught in primary and secondary schools (except perhaps in advanced placement courses?). What the right wing calls CRT and is trying to get banned from public schools is anything that acknowledges the role that race and racism played in the American colonies and eventually the United States, right up to the present day. The irony here — or maybe not? — is that children of color become aware at an early age of the role that racism plays in their communities and, not unlikely, their schools. The right wing is apparently trying to protect white students from things their classmates of color already know — or perhaps it’s actually trying to protect the white students’ *parents* from questions they don’t want to deal with?

  9. How did the other island towns vote on the NAACP’s request to fly the Juneteenth flag in their towns?

  10. https://www.federalpay.org/resources/holidays/FederalPay.org%20-%202022%20Federal%20Holidays.pdf

    New ideas and awareness are challenging for some folks, I completely understand that . Especially when many of us have been skipping along, enjoying our white privledge since the systematic colonization by Europeans in American on or about 1492. Rest assured that a federal holiday is vetted for its significance . I encourage those that are unsure of why it is important to recognize and reflect on how we invaded, stole and built this fruitful country , through kidnapping, slavery and genocide . An acknowledgment of anything less is the definition of ignorance. Juneteeth’s acknowledgement is a step towards healing the trauma for the people who’s ancestors experienced slavery and equally important the opportunity for reflection for those white people who are unsure of their privledge as well as their ancestors . If a federal holiday has a flag, then it should be flown, period.

    • Did my ancestors have “white privilege” when they encountered signs at the textile mills in Lowell that read “Negroes Welcome, Irish Need Not Apply”? Curious about how that was somehow indicative of white privilege. What are your thoughts on how between 1600-1699 more Irish were sold into slavery than Africans primarily as workers in the Caribbean. Do those countries owe me reparations? What about the Ottoman Empire selling millions of white Christians into slavery? This actually was a trigger for the United States first overseas military conflict. ” To the shores of Tripoli” sound familiar? History is ugly and needs to be understood fully, however none of us are responsible for the errors of our ancestors.

  11. Becky,
    If you think only white Europeans are the only group of people that have colonized their land and committed such atrocities you’re sorely mistaken. Look at the Middle East and China. Speak about your privilege and only your privilege. Their are plenty of white Europeans who have been discriminated against in this country. I seem to recall plenty of signs reading “Irish Need Not Apply”. You do know that there were white slaves and black slave owners alike? The emancipation of enslaved people is always a good thing but constantly pitting people against each other and stoking the flames of hatred to further divide is never good. We need to teach the good the bad and the ugly of our history but without laying guilt trips on people or victimizing them. Just saying this from an unprivileged guy.

    • White Europeans brought slavery to the Americas.
      They supported it or two hundred years.
      Many still support separation by race.

      • Yes, agree. Like colleges and universities having separate housing and graduations for their minority students. Progress.

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