Martha’s Vineyard has a long history of close relationships with Washington, D.C.’s elected officials and other powerful figures. Congressman Adam Clayton Powell in the House of Representatives, Senator Edward Brooke, Senator Frank Lautenberg in the upper chamber, First Lady Jackie Kennedy, President Bill and First Lady Hillary Clinton and of course President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama all have enjoyed our unique blend of people, culture, food, golf, beaches and relaxed, casual atmosphere.

But the transformative election of Rev. Raphael Warnock to the United States Senate last week invites us to amplify a very special relationship between the Vineyard and elected officials and history makers from Georgia.

It is important to begin with two civil rights fighters who put it all on the line in 1961 when federal district court Judge W.A. Bootle ordered the immediate admission of Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter (Gault) to the University of Georgia, ending 160 years of segregation at the school. Vernon Jordan, a native of Atlanta, was the young lawyer assigned to assist in researching the complaint that was filed with Judge Bootle. And when the day came for Charlayne to actually enter the university, Vernon was asked to literally escort her into the school building, shielding her from the raucous crowd hoping to scare her away.

Both CHG and Vernon have been very long time summer residents on the island. Dr. Martin Luther King was part of that whirlwind of civil rights leaders in the 1960s  that came to Villa Rose on Narragansett avenue as guests of then-owner Joe Overton from Harlem. The property was dubbed the “summer White House of the movement.” This sprawling Victorian seaside mansion has a billiards table on the third floor that was a favorite spot for Dr. King.

Atlanta, proud of its business and community moniker “A City Too Busy to Hate,” elected the charismatic Maynard Holbrook Jackson in 1973 as its first black mayor. Maynard was invited to Oak Bluffs to speak to a weekend of events sponsored by The Partnership, a Boston based organization created to attract professionals of color to work and live in Boston. Bennie Wiley, Charlie Beard and I were part of the organization leadership at that time.

Maynard would  come back many summers after his first visit. Another mayor of Atlanta, Andy Young, would come to Oak Bluffs in 1986 initially to marry Prof. Lani Guinier to Nolan Bowie. He would return a decade  later to speak at Shearer Cottage on behalf of Roads Scholar and read from his book An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movement and the Transformation of America. Most recently he spoke at Union Chapel on a panel organized by Clark Atlanta University to discuss the state of the American democracy.

John Lewis continued this thread of Atlanta royalty coming to the Vineyard when in August of 1998 he delivered a keynote address at Union Chapel on the 35th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. Lewis would come many, many times after that for panels, fundraisers and to introduce his books Walking with the Wind and March.

In 2017 city councilor Keisha Lance Bottoms was elected as the 60th mayor of Atlanta. She and her family are Oak Bluffs summer residents and are seen frequently around the island. The brilliant and irrepressible Stacey Abrams has brought her Fair Fight Voting initiative to the Vineyard, raising money to fight voter suppression. Her fierce determination to register voters made her the Jim Clyburn of the Warnock/Ossoff victories. 

The friendship that began in the 1990s between theology school classmates Rev. Cathlin Baker and Rev. Raphael Warnock is illustrative of how faith, family and a shared vision of equity, fairness and justice can be a public example to all. What I appreciate most about the relationship is that Rev. Warnock was been invited into the pulpit of the West Tisbury Congregational Church for a least a decade and Rev. Baker has preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on two occasions.

This exchange of visible black and white friendship in front of thousands of their parishioners over the years could not be more symbolic of all that Dr. King, Rev. Joseph Lowery, Rev. C.T. Vivian and others in Georgia lived and prayed for their entire lives. King Day 2021 will be celebrated like no other in all of Georgia!

All of Martha’s Vineyard congratulates Sen. Raphael Warnock and we look forward to seeing him once again here on the island this summer.

Paradise on earth is living the Vineyard experience. Enjoy it as life is fleeting!