The line for breakfast was long at the Oyster Bar on Circuit avenue last week, but well worth the wait. “Are you going to eat? Because if you are, you’d better hurry. It’s good,” said Natalie Dickerson, president emeritus of the Martha’s Vineyard chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
And good it was: cheese grits, collard greens, thick-cut bacon and home fried potatoes were just a smattering of the breakfast goods on offer at this, the chapter’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day brunch.
A large piece of white foam board hung below and to the left of the podium. On it were pasted pictures of notable African Americans from throughout the ages. In the center, taking up the most space, was the Ebony magazine cover featuring then-President-elect Barack Obama. This brunch was more than just a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. and an opportunity for the Island NAACP to renew memberships; it was a celebration of the historic inauguration of a black man to the highest office in the land. The seeds of hope that Dr. King planted 40 years ago have finally found purchase.
The NAACP celebrates its centennial this year, being founded on February 21, 1909. That date was chosen as the 100th anniversary of the birth of President Abraham Lincoln, the leader whose Emancipation Proclamation effectively put an end to the practice of slavery in America for good.
Neil Maciel stood in for Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake introducing the morning’s main speaker, Major General and Adjunct General Joseph C. Carter of the Massachusetts National Guard. Mr. Maciel took the time to share some biographical details about Mr. Carter, beginning with his career in law enforcement. In 1975 he was with the Boston Penal Institutions department, then moved on to join the Boston Police department where he served in numerous positions of increasing leadership and responsibility. In 1998 Mr. Carter assumed the role of Oak Bluffs Police chief, a position he held for five years. In 2003, he left that position to serve as the head of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Police until October 2007, when he became adjutant general of the Massachusetts Army National Guard, the most senior military office in that force.
It is worth noting that Mr. Carter is the first African American to hold that position in the Massachusetts National Guard’s 371-year history.
After this introduction, Mr. Carter took the podium. His strong voice resonated throughout the room as he thanked the company and began with a summary of the day at hand. “The late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; his birthday, a national holiday, a time to contemplate the state of our nation, to discuss our future.
“How many of us would have guessed that we would today be living in a commonwealth with an African American serving as our highest elected official?” Mr. Carter continued. “And even more so, a country preparing to inaugurate an African-American president?” he asked, later adding:
“The election of Barack Obama is a fulfillment of the promise of America.”
Mr. Carter spoke on the history of African Americans on Martha’s Vineyard, going back to the colonial era, when black slaves and indentured servants were brought here by families made wealthy by the whaling industry, and made free after the state legislature declared statewide emancipation in a ruling on the Quock Walter case in 1783. Many blacks stayed on the Islands, and have played prominent roles in their industry and government ever since. “Martha’s Vineyard has a long history as a place where African Americans can live, work and raise families,” said Mr. Carter.
In closing, the major sternly cautioned the crowd on thinking that the mission set forth by Dr. King and carried so far by organizations like the NAACP is anywhere near over. “There remains work to be done. There is far too much violence in the cities. There are more young African American men in prison than in college. We must recommit ourselves to [Dr. King’s] core values: justice, freedom and equality . . . He fought for change, and answered hatred with love.”
The speech received two standing ovations upon conclusion, and many members of the audience were visibly moved by Mr. Carter’s strong sentiments. A short awards ceremony for chapter members followed, and closing remarks by acting president Laurie Perry-Henry, who took the podium to thank Major Carter, Oyster Bar proprietor Michael Gillespie and the audience all for coming. She also mentioned that had he not been assassinated, Dr. King would be 80 years old today, a strong reminder of how far the nation has come in its making good on its pledge for “...liberty, and justice for all.”