Certainly Sen. Edward W. Brooke (Oct. 26, 1919 to Jan. 3, 2015) was the most renowned of Oak Bluffs’s African American elected officials as the first black senator since Reconstruction. Following his historic election in 1967 it took 27 years before the next, Carol Moseley Braun, was elected senator from Illinois. There have only been four more, one of whom is our President, a frequent Oak Bluffs visitor. Today there are two.

Due to Ed Brooke’s charisma there are few longtime Vineyarders over 50 who didn’t know him personally and would be delighted to tell you a story that will end with laughter. One of the senator’s friends, Hon. Herbert Edward Tucker (August 30, 2015 to March 1, 2007) of Oak Bluffs, co-founded Boston’s first black law firm, Cardozo and Tucker, and was later named Massachusetts assistant attorney general to Ed Brooke. President John F. Kennedy appointed Mr. Tucker ambassador to the Republic of Gabon. In 1972 he became the Massachusetts commissioner of public utilities and gained experience as a judge after being appointed special justice in Dorchester District Court.

Judge Tucker served on the board of directors of our Boys & Girls Club, and was a trustee of the Vineyard Open Land Foundation and member of the Martha’s Vineyard National Bank Foundation. From 1979 until his retirement Judge Tucker was the presiding justice of Edgartown District Court. Coincidentally, the judge’s daughter, Gretchen Tucker-Underwood, a Dukes County commissioner, is presently the only remaining African American elected official in Oak Bluffs.

One of Ed Brooke’s lesser known friends was Philip H. Reed (Feb. 21, 1949 to Jan. 6, 2008), who grew up to be city councilman Phil Reed of Manhattan, New York. His constituents knew him as the first openly gay, HIV-positive black politician who successfully legislated for open space parks and banned racial and religious profiling and the use of cell phones in places of public performances. I just knew him as one of my best friends for 45 years. Early in his career Phil worked for Otis elevators and recognized ups and downs. The only time he looked down on someone was to help them up. Phil’s dad was black and his mom was white — something shared by his political hero Barack Obama, whom he was delighted to see elected two days before his death.

Eight Oak Bluffs African Americans (so far) have become a first as an elected official: Malden Councilman Herbert Loring Jackson, U.S. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Rep. Lincoln Pope Jr., U.S. Sen. Edward W. Brooke, State Sen. Royal L. Bolling, State Rep. Royal L. Bolling Jr., Boston city council President Bruce C. Bolling and New York city Councilman Philip H. Reed. Combined, through legislation, they fought for equal credit and educational opportunity for women, legalized abortion, Latino, gay and lesbian rights and against racial and religious profiling, and predatory lending practices. They represented the poor, economic development, small business, equal opportunity and employment and of course, black people themselves, always having fought uphill for civil rights.

These men who lived and made black history became examples to generations of others; “Uncles” of the Oak Bluffs African American summer community who fished, played tennis, golfed, swam and were welcomed at cocktail, card and lawn parties. They rocked on porches to breezes off Narragansett Sound, enjoyed clam bakes and ice cream and often danced warm summer evenings away. Along with families they left a legacy of achievement even as they paved the way.

Black History isn’t just in February on Martha’s Vineyard. Visit the African American Heritage Trail online at mvafricanamericanheritagetrail.org , get Robert C. Hayden’s book, African Americans on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, or several publications at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. The museum is always seeking historical artifacts and photographs related to the Vineyard’s black community if you have some worthy of preservation for them to consider.

Phil Swift was a kind, gentle, gentleman who lost the battle with cancer on Saturday, Feb. 13. You knew him from the nursery at Jardin Mahoney and I regret sharing news of his death. There will be a service in his honor in April.

Chances are that this is the last Black History month I’ll be writing about while we have a black President. Thanks to him—and the late black elected officials of Oak Bluffs – the next time it will be a president who is black…instead of the other way around.

Keep your foot on a rock.

Send Oak Bluffs news to sfinley@mvgazette.com.