From the January 1965 editions of the Vineyard Gazette:

Last Monday night, as we put on hip boots and ear-muffs to drive to Vineyard Haven to celebrate the first birthday of the Advancement of Colored People, somebody spoke wryly of “winter soldiers.” The comparison between us here on peaceful Martha’s Vineyard and Washington’s embattled troops at Valley Forge had a humbling effect, as is the function of history. Warm, well-clad, with heaters in our cars, how dared we think of ourselves as “winter soldiers”? All the way to Vineyard Haven we debated this. The only similarity seemed a stubborn belief in the idea of freedom for all men, combined with a certain confusion as how best to achieve it.

The lights of the Baptist parish house in Vineyard Haven, were a beacon in the snow-shrouded streets. Inside, we compared notes. Someone told about an icicle three feet long in West Tisbury; another, who had made the trip from Chilmark, reported drifts waist-high. In the end, twenty-seven of us were assembled to hear Rev. Cornelius O’Neill administer the oath of office to Roscoe O. Heathman, president; Toby Dorsey, first vice president; Mrs. George Tankard, second vice president; Mrs. Nancy Hodgson, corresponding secretary; Mrs. Myra Araujo recording secretary; and Mrs. Phillip Levasseur, treasurer.

Following the installation the president read the names of the newly appointed committee chairmen, who will make up executive board: Mrs. Stanley Murphy, program; Mrs. Alida Gulick, life membership; Roscoe Heathman, employment; Mrs. Tankard, membership; Mrs. Milton Mazer, publicity; Rev. Henry Bird, coordinator of projects (with other branches and other civil rights organizations); Dr. Milton Mazer, political action; John H. Doermann, legal defense; Mrs. David Lilienthal, Freedom Fund; Tom Hodgson, youth representative; John Rogers, youth advisor; and members-at-large, Kivie Kaplan, Father O’Neill and Miss Margaret Love. A good cross-section of the Island, we decided.

“The Branch has grown from an initial seventy-five members to 167 in the past year,” the membership chairman said. “Our goal this year is 200.” She held up the new membership blank: a picture of Mrs. Medgar Ever’s tear-streaked face and the words, “You Can Kill a Man but You Can’t Kill an Idea.”

Coffee and cookies were served now as ammunition against the trip home. “We should have made a cake,” a young member lamented. “It’s our birthday.” Somebody put a Pete Seeger record on the phonograph. When he began We Shall Overcome, the young people sang with him, clapping hands and making a circle. A little embarrassed we older ones joined them, one by one. The circle widened.

It was time to go. Somebody said the temperature was now eight degrees. We struggled into boots and jackets. Outside the cold cut like a knife and we shivered in cars reluctant to start. Why had we come? In our car going home was a young man, Woollcott Smith, who had left college to go on one of the early hazardous freedom rides to the South. He had spent a month in the penitentiary in Mississippi as a result. Our cozy meeting in the Baptist Church that night must have seemed very remote to him from the bloody battlefield of Mississippi. But there must be a connection, we thought. Island or not, we are part of the human community. And this connection must be maintained, whether in the frail threads of our singing, our reluctant clasped hands, or in the small sums of money, the food, clothing, and books we gather and dispatch to the battle-front of the South.

According to a spokesman for the local NAACP, leaders in the Civil Rights movement expect 1965 to be a year in which the integration drive will move from the streets in its attack on discrimination and turn to voter registration and self-help projects within the black community itself. Roy Wilkins, executive director of the NAACP, recently announced plans for citizenship clinics throughout the country.

“Many Islanders,” the spokesman continued, “have been deeply involved in the Civil Rights movement, participating in demonstrations and voter registration in the South; others have given of their time and money here at home. Since the passage of the Civil Rights Law they are wondering, ‘What do we do now?’ This will be one of the areas of discussion at the round table.”

Mrs. David E. Lilienthal Jr. of Edgartown departed yesterday for two or three weeks in Jackson, Miss., where she will work in the legal office of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

Mrs. Lilienthal has been active in the civil rights movement. She was instrumental in the forming of the Vineyard Chapter of the NAACP, and has made several trips South, notable to Williamston, N. C., for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Her trip to Mississippi is not under the auspices of any one civil rights organization, however, but is the result of per acquaintance with the individuals involved in the aims of the Freedom Democratic Party.

Compiled by Hilary Wall