Our beloved Charles Ogletree, attorney and law professor and longtime seasonal resident of Oak Bluffs, died on August 4.

Charles founded the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice (CHHIRJ) at Harvard Law School in 2004. It was designed to be a platform for scholarship, innovative strategic advocacy, coalition building, socially-concerned legal education and community engagement on matters central to civil rights and equal opportunity in the 21st century.

While it was founded in Cambridge and spread its organizational wings to Washington, D.C., New York and elsewhere, it was Martha’s Vineyard where Charles was widely known for exposing the work and meaning of dialogue leading to action.

In the summer of 2004, the CHHIRJ and the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research, also located at Harvard University, assembled a panel at the Old Whaling Church to consider the status of Black America on the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that desegregated schools and repudiated the doctrine of separate but equal. While Charles moderated the panel, anticipation was building as word raced through the Island that an unannounced guest was to join the discussion. Barack Obama, then an Illinois state senator and candidate for the U.S. Senate, entered the church and was introduced by Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. with the following comment, “My candidate for president in the year 2012.” This event crystallized an indelible bond between the Vineyard, Charles Ogletree. Skip Gates and the Obamas that would grow exponentially over the ensuing 20 years.

The CHHIRJ would subsequently host many more forums at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School in Oak Bluffs. In 2008 the forum was on Race, Gender, Age and Religion in the 2008 election. In 2010 it was Republicans, Religion and Racial Profiling. Legendary entertainment icon Barry Gordy was celebrated in 2011 as Charles hosted Heard it through the Grapevine: Race and Media in the 21st Century.

In 2012 he shifted to sports and the forum was titled Between the Lines: Race and Gender in Sports in the 21st Century. In 2015 Charles turned his conversation to community policing in Black and Blue: Policing the Color Line.

These forums brought to the public authors, academics, financiers, thought leaders, polemics and business people of all stripes and diverging opinions. The Vineyard was transformed from a place mostly focused on its many social components to a center of dialogue, strategy and action. To attend Ogletree forums was to eat and drink from a fountain of ideas and strategies for our return to the mainland of America, ready to continue to fight for a more perfect Union.

As the Obama family began to frequent the Island more, they developed a strict policy of not attending political or public events. But the summer before the president made his second bid for the White House, Charles convinced President Obama to make an exception to this policy and meet the public in his backyard on Alpine street in Oak Bluffs. A tent was raised and the invited guests drove to a local school parking lot where identifications were verified before getting on a bus to Tree’s cottage. The event was orchestrated by Barbara Edelin and her late husband Ken Edelin. The president, preceded by Valerie Jarrett, came off the small platform and mingled graciously among the 75 or so special guests.

This magical afternoon was the only event in Oak Bluffs in his two terms that the president visited and mingled with the public in a organized event.

Charles was a frequent congregant at Union Chapel and hosted several events there. Two were particularly special. In August of 1997 he organized a tribute to celebrate the 90th birthday of Dorothy West, the last remaining writer from the Harlem Renaissance. In 2011 he was the main speaker at an event titled Voices for Obama where luminaries gathered in support of President Obama’s run for a second term.

In thinking about his legacy and what it meant to many here on the Vineyard, the Union Chapel leadership established the Charles Ogletree Public Forum Series as part of the Union Chapel Educational and Cultural Institute. This action forever carves his name into the public programmatic fiber of our Island.

Many will join us in saluting Charles as his life cannot be defined by any one dimension or obituary. His Harvard colleagues Professor Ron Sullivan and Coach Tommy Amaker noted, “Tree was motivated by an irrepressible desire to defeat injustice — and especially, racial injustice — whereever he found it.”

The family of Union Chapel has committed to his mission and are deeply honored to carry on his legacy.

In writing to me just before his passing his wife Pamela said: "Hi Richard, just want you to know that Charles’ journey on this side of heaven is coming to an end. We started hospice care on July 18, and he is now in the process of transitioning. I will never be able to thank you enough for creating the public forum series in his honor. This summer’s program is extraordinary and exceeds anything I could have imagined. I’m blown away by how much it has grown over the years thanks to you. Hope all goes well this afternoon. Forever grateful, Pam Ogletree."

Paradise on earth is living the Vineyard experience. Enjoy it as time is fleeting. Randall Edward Taylor, rest in peace.