The news of the Smithsonian Institute including Oak Bluffs in an exhibit in the National Museum of African American History and Culture is spreading and creating much excitement. People are proud that our small town will be nationally acknowledged for its contributions to black history, appropriately enough with this announcement in February.
The history of Oak Bluffs becoming a resort is a fascinating story with lots of parts and people such as Dr. Adelaide M. Cromwell, the first to define it. A Vineyarder since 1943, Dr. Cromwell authored The History of Oak Bluffs as a Popular Resort for Blacks in the Dukes County Intelligencer in August of 1984. Dr. Cromwell was born in Washington, D.C., in 1919, a month after Sen. Edward W. Brooke, and graduated with him from Washington’s prestigious Dunbar High School in 1936. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Smith College, her master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania, a certificate in social casework from Bryn Mawr College and a Ph.D. in sociology from Harvard’s Radcliffe College in 1946. Her accolades continued when she became the first African American instructor at Hunter College and then at Smith College. Dr. Cromwell has had an impressive academic history and career during which she has written extensively and authored several books. She was a professor of sociology at Boston University from 1951 to 1985 and was a leading member of the committee that established Boston University’s African Studies Program. She became the administrator of the program in 1953 and in 1969 was appointed director of the graduate program in Afro-American Studies.
Dr. Cromwell has been widely recognized for her outstanding contributions to academia with awards and honors that include a citation from the National Order of Cote d’Ivoire, the Smith College Medal, and the Carter G. Woodson Medal from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). Carter G. Woodson was the founder of Black History Month.
Now retired, Dr. Adelaide M. Cromwell is doing research on her family. Her friend Gretchen Tucker-Underwood gave me her number and I was honored to speak with Dr. Cromwell last week. She is delighted about the news that Oak Bluffs is to be acknowledged by the Smithsonian. She told me that it was called Cottage City when her aunt bought her house, where Dr. Cromwell stayed when she first visited, and I laughed saying that was indeed the point. Although retired, Dr. Cromwell is doing research on her family.
Tuckernuck avenue’s Dr. Jessica B. Harris is the author of several cookbooks and books on food. In her consulting role with the museum on food, she is a major contributor to Oak Bluffs’ recognition by the Smithsonian. Jessica speaks four languages, has written articles for many magazines, has appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America and has been profiled in the New York Times. On August 14 she will be joining a discussion hosted by Martha’s Vineyard Magazine at Union Chapel about the new exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. She will introduce its director, Dr. Lonnie Bunch. Save the date! In conjunction with the event the Vineyard Gazette is looking for any video folks may have of early days in Oak Bluffs. If you have old video or film (super 8mm, 16mm, VHS), please do not try to view it because it might be destroyed in the process. Contact Tom Dunlop at firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-627-4311, extension 134, (or me) and we will have it digitized (duplicated) and returned to you safely — and, of course, old photos are welcome.
I understand that the serious construction going on at the Lampost will result in the removal of a blank wall and add some outdoor seating. Thank you to another business owner proud enough to be in OB to add to the improvements on Circuit avenue.
Wamsutta avenue’s Grace Frye, born in 1918, a contemporary of Adelaide Cromwell and known as the Avon Lady after the products she sold from her home for over 50 years, died at home last Thursday. She was the widow of Buster Frye whose dad, George, started Frye’s cobbler shop in 1920. The shop remained open on Circuit avenue until 1968. I wish I still had some of those fabulous leather sandals and belts they used to make. We offer warm condolences to their son Vinnie and the rest of the Frye family. Rest in peace, Mrs. Frye.
Keep your foot on a rock.