In his memoir, Knocking Down Barriers, Truman R. Gibson Jr. drops several interesting names associated with his visits to Oak Bluffs in the 1940s and 1950s.

Attorney Gibson, an aide to the Secretary of War during World War II, served on two presidential advisory committees and helped desegregate the military. A member of Harry Truman’s black cabinet, Mr. Gibson was the first African American awarded the Presidential Medal of Merit. He was part of the legal team that won the Shelley v. Kraemer case in 1948, a Supreme Court decision that struck down restrictive covenants—the term used for denying the sale of real estate to minorities. Later, he represented boxer Joe Louis and became acquainted with several dignitaries of the time such as future Supreme Court Judge Thurgood Marshall; America’s first black Air Force general, Daniel (Chappie) James; and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. In 1955, the group caught 20 tuna during a vacation in St. Thomas.

Mr. Gibson first visited Oak Bluffs in 1946 with his wife Isabelle—the same name as Mr. Powell’s wife—and Etta Moten Barnett (1901–2004), the motion picture actress and star of the 1942 stage revival of Porgy & Bess. Mrs. Barnett was the first black woman to sing in the White House in 1934 when Eleanor Roosevelt had her sing for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s birthday party.

Mr. Gibson did not specifically say so, but I believe he may have stayed at Shearer Cottage on his first trip here. For the next eight years he and his family rented a house that he believed Joseph Kennedy had built for Gloria Swanson. But of course we know the house on Temahigan avenue was actually owned by Ms. Swanson’s fifth husband, William M. Davey.

Mr. Gibson enjoyed the town and socializing with other notables such as Sen. Edward W. Brooke, whose family once had a house on Canonicus avenue, one block over from another former Vineyarder for most of her life, Suzanne dePasse of Nantucket avenue.

Suzanne dePasse was a Motown executive renowned for discovering the Jackson Five. She also founded the company that produced Lady Sings the Blues, the Academy Award-nominated movie about Billie Holiday’s life. Coincidently, Gloria Swanson’s last husband, William Dufty, was a co-author of Billie Holiday’s autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues, the book the movie was based on.

Suzanne dePasse’s aunt on her mother’s side is Jackie Brown Llewellyn, whose daughter Alexandra Llewellyn Clancy bought the Swanson home on Temahigan with her late husband Tom Clancy.

Many Oak Bluffs houses have stories but the “Swanson” home certainly has its share.

Mary Korba reports that Martha’s Vineyard Community Services is hosting a caravan (Tour de MV License Plate) around the Island for the new MV licenses plate holders. Participants (who must have a MV license plate) are asked to arrive at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 16. The caravan will leave promptly at 2 p.m. and end with a barbecue and live entertainment. Information is available at 508-693-7900 or

Last week, the first of a series of meetings about affordable housing (and/or the lack thereof) was conducted by experienced facilitators at the Oak Bluffs School and attended by 50 or so people. I had two poignant takeaways. The first was that there was a paucity of people who actually needed affordable housing in attendance. The second observation was that one of the questions asked was what were the gating issues preventing affordable housing. That was truly discouraging because there were so many and they dwarfed the number of concrete ideas. More meetings will be held and more participation is needed.

The meeting was held in the Oak Bluffs School due to the many disturbing deficiencies of town hall, as portrayed by building inspector Mark Barbadoro in his inspection report. Selectman Walter Vail and planning board chairman Brian Packish asked to have the information shared, which detailed how the town hall needs to be completely renovated or replaced. It also mentioned that the library needs some work due to some design issues, but that other buildings are in generally good shape. It will be interesting to see what next steps are taken.

It’s also going to be interesting to see when and what happens to the other elephant that apparently needs work: the regional high school, which also happens to be in Oak Bluffs.

Keep your foot on a rock.

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