From the Vineyard Gazette edition of Dec. 13, 1963:
As the result of interest shown at a meeting Monday night, the Island now has a chapter of its own of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The parish house of Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven was jam-packed Monday evening to hear Rev. Henry L. Bird talk about his experiences in Williamston, N.C., where he participated in a civil rights demonstration along with ten other New England ministers last month.
The meeting, which was sponsored by the Cape Cod Chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., of which the Island group was a branch, was also the occasion to find out if interest on the Island were widespread enough to warrant the establishment of a new chapter here separate from the Cape chapter.
The interest was far greater than had been anticipated. Only fifty members are needed to establish a chapter. By the time the meeting ended, there were seventy-nine members, fifty-five of them adults and twenty-four of them youths. Before the meeting there had been only thirteen adult members and three youth members.
The flowering of the civil rights movement on the Island is unquestionably the result of the public reaction of Mr. Bird’s decision to join the North Carolina demonstration and the trip subsequently made by Dr. Robert W. Nevin to the same locality.
Although there had been N.A.A.C.P. rallies at the Tabernacle in the Camp Ground the last two summers and although Mr. Bird and other Vineyarders had participated in the march on Washington, it was not until Mr. Bird and Dr. Nevin so dramatically displayed their total commitment to the cause of human rights that a sense of immediacy let many Vineyarders to believe they should themselves play a more active role in the movement.
Mr. Bird, who was arrested and jailed with others in Williamston for flouting a municipal ordinance requiring a permit to have a parade, spoke Monday night about the progress of the civil rights movement in the small North Carolina town in the context of the four basic steps in non-violent persuasion first advocated by Dr. Martin Luther King in his famous letter written from the Birmingham City Jail.
The four steps are to collect the facts, to negotiate, to undergo self-purification and to take direct action.
“In Williamston the facts were clear,” Mr. Bird said, explaining with the aid of maps and diagrams, that it was a community of total racial segregation. The negotiation step had fizzled out in a “bi-racial committee” that had accomplished nothing more than the removal of the white and colored signs over the segregated drinking fountains in the courthouse.
At the time Mr. Bird and the other New England ministers, all members of a north branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, of which Dr. King is the head, entered the picture, the movement in Williamston had already entered into the third and fourth steps in the nonviolent campaign.
The act of self-purification is a process in which the individual rids himself of his own hates and prejudices. In one of the early demonstrations before the New England ministers went to Williamston, the demonstrators met perhaps the supreme test of their non-violent training when the nozzles of an insecticide spraying machine were turned on them full force.
One of the immediate results of Mr. Bird’s journey, and Dr. Nevin’s, was the desire expressed by many Vineyarders to emulate the concern for human rights shown by these two men. A small part of this desire manifested itself in the Letters to the Editors column of the Gazette for several weeks. And the formation of the N.A.A.C.P. chapter as a vehicle by which that concern could be carried to definite action was the outcome.
Mr. Bird suggested that among the matters the Vineyard chapter of the organization could concern itself with were housing, employment and public accommodations as they relate to racial discrimination.
Somebody present asked if there were really anything to worry about in connection with public accommodations (restaurants, hotels and such) on the Island, and Mr. Bird answered that indeed there was, in spite of the fact that there is a state law forbidding discrimination. He said that there were subtle ways to make people of the “wrong” race unwelcome at hotels.
Mr. Bird also urged those present to write, telegraph or telephone Representative Hastings Keith, urging him to work for discharging the petition which would enable the civil rights bill now in Congress to come to a vote before the full House of Representatives.
Another immediate chapter concern, he said, could be the question of summer employment on a fair basis.
He urged that the group familiarize itself with the principles of nonviolent protest and how to act with the scope of the four steps. He also suggested reading the outstanding civil rights books and tracts, most of which are available in the larger Island libraries.
Compiled by Hilary Wall