Susanna Styron emailed me that she would be showing her documentary Suspended Sentence in Chilmark last Wednesday. The movie provides a cogent glance into the Vineyard in the 1970s. I was one of those interviewed. Given recent events in Charlottesville and the spate of events showing the fragility of freedom, I thought I would share a few reflections inspired by the re-showing of Susanna’s excellent work.

Yes, the Vineyard was pristine back then. I would frequently drink the water as I swam peacefully across Ice House Pond at 6 a.m. to start my day. But what enabled me to eventually purchase a year-round residence in West Tisbury was the righteous actions of three “Up-Standers” — ordinary Vineyard people who stood up for principle.

The first summer I arrived, when a music performance job turned sour, I was asked to sign a legal document given me by my employer that I would leave and never return to the Vineyard again — all because of a false accusation against me motivated by race. David Borden, a jazz pianist and composer, literally rescued me, said this was bogus, and gave me a new job playing bass with him at The Sea View. I stayed with his landlady Lucy Abbot in Harthaven.

Then Lucy’s father said that I could not stay there because he did not like the idea of a person of color being on the beach at Harthaven. Instead of having me leave, Lucy instead opted to sell her lovely inherited home to her dad, and move her family of five with me into a new house she bought in the center of Oak Bluffs.

Later the next summer when I was playing in the upstairs lounge at the Seafood Shanty as a bassist, the cook hated the idea of a black man having such a warm relationship with the singing waitresses. I found clear crushed glass in my rice. Robert J, Carroll, the owner, stood up for me and said to the cook: “Walter is staying and if there are any more threats you will be fired.”

Bob, who had no male kids, had adopted me of sorts. Working there for the following six years enabled me to complete my university education (not to mention how empowering it was flying in Bob’s twin engine plane to audition singing waitresses at Mount Holyoke College).

Lastly, I was given a life-changing “facing painful American history” lesson by the famed Jewish lyricist E.Y. Harburg (writer of “Over The Rainbow”) in his Chilmark living room that same summer. Back then I developed a keen interest in musical theatre composition which was enriched by playing Broadway hits at the Shanty. One late afternoon in Yip’s living room, I asked him what was the greatest song ever written. In his reply, he began to sing the slave spiritual Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. He encouraged me to take on American slavery and its heroes as subject matter for any future creative work and to base my original music on this rich legacy of up-lifting spirituals from slavery.

In a time today when we are being asked to distort American history and to accommodate and be “by-standers” to racial hate, I thought these reflections of what really enabled me to be on the Vineyard for 30 years might be inspiring to someone. Thanks Susanna for jogging my memory about the old days.