Celebrating Robert Hayden

The African American Heritage Trail dedicated a new site to the researcher and activist.

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Dozens gathered at the Oak Bluffs library last week to unveil the latest addition to the African American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard (AAHT), and to honor intellectual and activist Robert Hayden Jr.

On Thursday, Dec. 7, through a collaboration with the Massachusetts Association of Science Teachers (MAST), the trail’s 37th site was named in honor of Hayden and his lifelong initiatives in research, education, and social justice. 

Following a greeting from activist and longtime Heritage Trail member Joseph Carter, acting as the master of ceremonies, Oak Bluffs library Director Alison Malik spoke about Hayden and his contributions to the library, spotlighting his efforts toward the creation of its African American resource collection. “He is an indelible part of our library, and we will continue to share his story and legacy here,” Malik said. 

Placed near the gazebo located on the library’s green, the plaque dedicated to Hayden details his achievements in the social and scientific fields. 

Hayden’s work as a teacher, writer, scientist, and historian, widely regarded as pioneering, spotlighted the history of African Americans in scientific fields, and contributed to the documented history of African American achievement. 

He was also an award-winning writer, a founding member and director of the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO), and served as national secretary of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH); he was the founding president of the ASALH’s Martha’s Vineyard branch. 

Dr. Elaine Winetraub, co-founder of the AAHT and the event organizer, spoke to the importance of dedicating the site on his behalf: “I knew Bob well, and I can speak to the passionate commitment to justice and inclusive education that embraced all that Bob had […] He would be thrilled to know that we have continued to chase the dream of equality, and now dedicated a site to all aspects of the African American experience.” 

Joel Winetraub, teacher and Island representative of MAST, also spoke, highlighting Hayden’s contributions to the scientific field: “[MAST] is delighted to collaborate with the African American Heritage Trail on this dedication, as we work toward preserving an inclusive record of scientific achievement.” He closed his remarks by characterizing Hayden as “a leader and a visionary.”

Hayden’s son, Kevin Hayden, the district attorney for Suffolk County, delivered the closing speech. “[My father] wasn’t perfect … but he was a great man,” he began. “The fact that [we are] here today, and going forward, that this plaque on this rock on Martha’s Vineyard will be dedicated to him, and what he loves and cherishes so much, couldn’t be more poignant or significant.”

The event concluded with an unveiling of the plaque by his children, surrounded by the event attendees. 

Following the unveiling, the Hayden family reflected on the event. “[The speakers] definitely captured everything about him and his essence,” his daughter, Karen McAdams, said. 

Kevin Hayden described the event as “phenomenal, a blessing. It was really incredible to see so many people here, and the outpouring of love and appreciation for my dad. It was really special.”

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