Editor’s note: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited the Vineyard during the summer of 1961, writing to Gazette editor Henry Beetle Hough that he “spent the whole month of August working on a manuscript that should be placed in the hands of my publisher very soon.”

In subsequent years, Vineyarders traveled south to Williamston, N.C., to take part in the Civil Rights movement. What follows are excerpts from Gazette articles published during November of 1963.


The Rev. Henry L. Bird, rector of the Episcopal parish on Martha’s Vineyard, is with a group of ten clergymen this week in Williamston, N. C., engaged in non-violent action in the cause of civil rights. His decision to go was announced during the service of morning prayer, Sunday at St. Andrew’s Church, Edgartown.

Leaving the Island Monday, Mr. Bird met his fellow clergymen at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Boston, there leaving in a bus at 4. The group included four or five Episcopalians, the others being Baptists and from the United Church of Christ. At Williamston the group had plans for mass meetings and instruction in non-violent action. They are members of the Massachusetts unit of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference whose national leader is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Williamston is a small agricultural community in the eastern part of North Carolina. Its 6,000 population is almost equally divided between Negroes and white people.

Freedom demonstrations had been carried on there prior to the demonstrations in which Mr. Bird took part, and these have continued. Paul Chapman, East Chop summer resident, who is director of the Packard Manse Ecumenical Centers at Stoughton and Roxbury, has made six trips to Williamston.

In a couple of telephone calls home to his wife, Mr. Bird told of developments in the small town which yesterday morning were expected to end with the northern visitors in jail.

The first night after arrival, the Massachusetts unit attended a rally, a meeting in the nature of a church service, attended by many women and children, and which Mr. Bird found deeply inspiring. They were trailed, following the rally, on their way to the homes where they were guests.

The next day they attended a demonstration in non-violent action, after which they were taken on a sightseeing trip, a trip which brought a startling episode. A truck bore down on the group, ran right toward them and their new friends. John Harman, a big fellow, was saved from injury when a woman pulled him from the path of what was apparently a vehicle being driven with malicious intent.

The police chief had made known that he would not allow any assembling, which Mr. Bird and his group considered a violation of constitutional right. They proceeded to ask for the permit to assemble and it was refused, with the warning that if the clergymen did assemble they would be arrested.

This was the situation yesterday morning, with the expectation of arrest and incarceration, since the northerners were determined they would gather to make a demonstration.


“We started a hunger strike briefly again yesterday because some of the men who were removed to another jail were segregated and fasted to protest — so we started again in sympathy,” Reverend Bird wrote to his wife. “Soon, though, they were moved, and we were eating again. You’d be pleased to know I’m doing calisthenics every day, and I know I’m losing weight . . . I’ve washed T-shirt, socks and shirt in our common sink and gotten somewhat freshened up. There is a shower stall but no towels.”


Dr. Robert W. Nevin is on his way this morning to Williamston, N.C., as a participant in the civil rights demonstration in which, last week, the Rev. Henry L. Bird, rector of the Episcopal parish on Martha’s Vineyard, was arrested and jailed in that southern town. His departure from Boston by automobile, with four others, may have been seen on television by Islanders who have long been his patients, his friends and his admirers.

Dr. Nevin said before he left the Vineyard that this was to be for him a symbolic journey, undertaken as a country doctor, a Vineyarder by birth and tradition, a born and bred Republican and conservative, because he rejects and resents the fact that men, women and children are denied the rights to which as human beings and as Americans they are entitled. He intended his journey to identify him completely with the protest in which Mr. Bird is taking part, and with the cause of civil rights and human rights.

He believed that because of his background of characteristic New England conservatism and a heritage of typical old time prejudices his trip will establish that the civil rights demonstration is not a gesture of extremists and impractical idealists. There can be no doubt that Dr. Nevin’s departure will place the issue in new light and require a broader judgment by the community. A number of letters in support of Mr. Bird have already been received by the Gazette, including a statement signed by most of the senior class of the Regional High School.


The Rev. Henry L. Bird was released from jail in Williamston, N.C., on Wednesday, along with others of the group of fifty, northern ministers and local people, who were arrested last week following a non-violent demonstration.

The bond posted for their release had to be supplied by local taxpayers or property owners (any amount of money had been offered and was ready on the Vineyard), and although the necessary amount was nominal, said to be only $125, even that sum couldn’t be supplied by sympathetic people in the town except by liens on their properties.

Mrs. Bird said she expected her husband to be home late Saturday or early Sunday. He will return to Williamston for the hearing on Dec. 2.


When he was ready to begin his trip home, Dr. Nevin went to the station, which is in enemy territory in Williamston. Two white bystanders heard him state his destination and began to talk of what they would do to him — one would take his head and the other would soften up his belly. They approached, ready for the assault, and the first man lunged at him.

This was where it became apparent that Dr. Nevin could not qualify for the passive resistance method that requires the complete control of any will or impulse to retaliate, and even of the natural reflexes involving self defense or counter-action.

Dr. Nevin not only shifted his weight but could not resist tripping his assailant with his foot so that the man struck the wall and floor. He then removed his coat. But the woman ticket-seller interfered in great distress, lest she lose her job. A policeman standing nearby did nothing. Law and order were obviously suspended, but the woman’s interest in keeping her job made the station a sanctuary, and Dr. Nevin stayed in it until the gathering of more outbound passengers gave the protection of numbers. In no great length of time he had a seat on the bus and was leaving Williamston, N.C., the county seat of Martin Co., behind him.