I can’t remember a sunnier day, when the son is hot, the air is clear and not a drop of humidity. And I like it just like that.

Also liking it very much are those gathered on Martha’s Vineyard, where the fish are jumping, and the living is easy. Although there’s a party over here and a party over there, the island’s history is fascinating. Twenty miles long and 9 miles wide, Martha’s Vineyard is the largest island on the southeastern coast of Massachusetts. The island, known as “In the Midst of the Sea,” was originally inhabited by the Wampanoag people.

The Northmen, also known as Vikings, where perhaps the first to explore the island in or about the year 1000, and named the territory Vineland. Next to lay claim to the island was Italian explorer Verrazano (yes, as in the bridge), who first sighted the western end of the island in 1524, and called it Claudia, in honor of the mother of Francis II of France.

Explorers continued to come and go as they sailed the Atlantic in discovery of new land, short cuts to the Far East and to make new territorial claims. However, it was Bartholomew Gosnold, of Falmouth, England, who in 1602 made a real impact upon the island. He was the first Englishman to sail directly to the American coast, and because of a strong wind, landed on a cape, which he named Cape Cod because of the abundance of codfish found there. After doubling the cape and sailing a short distance south, he landed once again, this time on an island rich with wood, grape vines, beautiful lakes and springs of the purest water. He called the island Martha’s Vineyard, in honor of his mother, whose name was Martha.

The English began to settle on the island in 1642, with the purchase of Martha’s Vineyard by Thomas Mayhew of Watertown, Mass., from two English “owners” who were granted rights to the land by the Queen of England. Mayhew, along with his son, Thomas Jr., began the first English settlement in 1642 at what’s known today as Edgartown, Mass.

Honoring the Wampanoags as the original inhabitants, the settlers lived peacefully with the Native Americans, forming schools and converting them to Christianity. The schools, founded by Thomas Jr., and one taught by Peter Folger, the grandfather of Benjamin Franklin, were of such quality that the first Native American graduates of Harvard were from Martha’s Vineyard.

By 1668, the island had become well settled and incorporated into six towns. There is Edgartown on the east, named for Edgar, son of James II, who bore the title of Duke of Cambridge; Oak Bluffs on the northeast, named for its location and oak trees; Tisbury for the Mayhew Parish in England; West Tisbury; Chilmark, for the English Parish of Governor Mayhew’s wife; and Gay Head on the west, named for its wonderful cliffs of different colored clay. Gay Head is also known as Aquinnah, where many Wampanoags live today.

The late 18th century found Oak Bluffs to be the ideal location for many Methodist and Baptist revival meetings, which attracted a significant number of Black visitors. These revivals sparked the beginnings of the summer resort community. As land developers built homes along the island, by the early 20th century an increasing number of Blacks came to the Island to work for the white families with summer homes.

Although racial discrimination and restrictive covenants persisted on the island, by the 1920s, and particularly after World War II, as Blacks grew more prosperous, they became property owners, year-round residents and small business entrepreneurs, particularly in Oak Bluffs. Black islanders began to offer accommodations in their small cottages that attracted Black visitors from Boston, New York, Philadelphia and other Northeastern cities.  

Many of the homes have been passed down through the generations. One of the oldest and most well-known of these establishments that caters specifically to Blacks is Shearer Cottage. Founded by Charles and Henrietta Shearer in 1912 as a summer inn, the cottage actually began as a laundry operated by Henrietta, which opened in 1903. The cottage continues to provide a haven for guests and has been managed by the Shearers daughters, granddaughters and great grandchildren into the 21st century.

The Black presence on the island has become indelible and even ritualistic as long lost friends connect, and new friendships and ties are made. The beauty of the island has not changed, and the serenity continues to be a healing balm. The Polar Bears meet every morning at the infamous Inkwell, where the circle contains well over 100 souls who brave the morning waters. It has been the site where hundreds of the members of AKA have met to reaffirm their sorority. Howard University Bison have met there. And Barbara and Chuck Williams celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary there with a renewal of their vows, confessing their short comings and promising to continue to love, honor each other and obey the vows of marriage. There wasn’t a dry eye on the beach.

I have seen a man get down on his knee to propose. Asha and Sean Meed christened their son Rhodes (Asha’s maiden name) on the beach. Little ones take their first dip there. Brides and grooms say “I Do,” all along the Inkwell, under the Vineyard sky. Ahhh the taste of summer.

Until next week … kisses.