In 1787 John Saunders, a former slave, brought Methodism to the Island and preached to the original and other people of color at Pecoy Point’s Pulpit Rock. Ironically, Hebron Vincent (a leading abolitionist) was one of the founders of the Methodist Campgrounds in 1835 that for years — although occasionally inviting African American preachers to speak — denied them ownership of its homes and full participation in its activities.

After the Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Company built the new town to separate itself from the secular community, the Methodists built a seven foot high fence around the Campgrounds. That’s why the Land and Wharf Company invested $16,000 in building Union Chapel in 1870 as a non-sectarian place of worship. Serendipitously it’s designer Samuel Pratt’s middle name was Freeman. Built on the small mound of Chapel Hill, the towering, octagonal shaped, architecturally significant church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. Its once proud tower was lost in a storm and many long for the time when its owner, the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust (whose board is not quite as diverse as Union Chapels seasonal congregation) will consider replacement.

The congregation was quite proud of a service last August when 760 (an attendance record) turned out to welcome the Rev. Otis Moss III and his father. I remember when my sister Deborah Finley Jackson (I call her Doob), a reverend who, while speaking at Union Chapel, suggested that 11 a.m. Sundays in America is the most segregated hour of the week. While that’s probably true in America it shouldn’t be here in Oak Bluffs and might be an opportunity for those who choose speakers for Union Chapel to give that some consideration.

John Saunders, Hebron Vincent and Samuel Freeman Pratt may have had to see things in black and white, but it seems they combined to foster a congregation inside of Union Chapel that more closely mirroring the grey walls outside. Justice won’t be produced by just us.

Saturday is Della Hardman Day in Ocean Park at 4 p.m. Della was one of five people who have written this column since its inception. This year’s speakers include educator Lucia Bacote James, Richard Taylor, author of the new book, Martha’s Vineyard Race, Property & the Power of Place, and Andrea Taylor, CEO of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Join the celebration; savor the moment.

Upon the eve of August the calendar grows.

Celebrated photographer of the Polar Bears Circle, Michael Johnson has a photo salon on Tuesday, August 2 at 7 p.m. at Featherstone. Also on August 2, Arlo Guthrie performs at the Tabernacle. Collie Buddz is at the Lamppost on Thursday, August 4, and Taj Mahal returns to the Rock on Friday, August 5. Information for these is available at

Union Chapel presents a program on Thursday, August 4 at 5 p.m. devoted to the impact of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in the 21st Century. Guests include Dr. John Wilson, the president of Morehouse College, Freada Kapor Klein, Winston Henderson and Rick Fredkin. Get information at or call 202-415-6264 for this free event.

At 7 p.m. on Thursday, August 4 the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival presents the Maya Angelou film And Still I Rise at the Tabernacle. There will be a discussion afterwards by directors Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack. Admission is $10 for members, $20 if you’re not, and $100 to attend the pre-screening cocktail hour. Visit for information.

The Oak Bluffs library has announced the lineup for its upcoming African American Literature & Culture Festival. Anticipating the inauguration of the Pride of Place Oak Bluffs exhibit at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, the festival opens with a reception Thursday, August 4 from 6 to 8 p.m. The reception premieres with an art show curated by Duncan Caldwell that will last for the duration of the festival. Beginning at 10 a.m. Friday, August 5, the speakers will be author Kevin Parham, art expert Cheryl Finley, cookbook author and historian Jessica Harris, choreographer Reggie Wilson and prehistoric archeologist Duncan Caldwell. Starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday there is an appreciation of the Cottager’s 60th Anniversary followed by historian and author Robert C. Hayden, cookbook author Caroline Randall Williams, coffee table book authors Don West and Kenneth J. Cooper and author and songwriter Alice Randall. The Martha’s Vineyard Spirituals Choir will end the program at 4 p.m.

The coolest kid in O.B. this week is Chadwick Stokes who performs Saturday, July 30 at Union Chapel. Once a counselor at Camp Jabberwocky, Chad wrote a song about the Flying Horses he just might play.

Keep your foot on a rock.

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