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THE UNBEATEN PATH

By Gary Lee
The Washington Post
Sunday, August 31, 1997; Page E04

   


When pupils of Martha's Vineyard schoolteacher Elaine Cawley Weintraub started asking where the early African American settlers on the tony Massachusetts island had lived and worked, she took it upon herself to find out.

After eight years of research, Weintraub and co-author Carrie Camillo Tankard have produced a self-guided tour and 16-page booklet to direct visitors and residents through the 300-year history of black settlement in those parts.

One of the most intriguing stops on the tour is the grave of William Martin, the only African American whaling captain to make his home on the island. Martin was buried in 1907 in Chappaquiddick Graveyard and his tombstone faces the opposite direction of all the others in the cemetery. The house where Martin lived with his Native American wife, another stop on the tour, is also located in the settlement of Chappaquiddick.

Another notable site: Pulpit Rock, situated in the town of Oak Bluffs, which a number of African Americans who purchased their freedom from slavery in Virginia in the 1700s and came north to Martha's Vineyard used as a place of worship and residence.

The tour, outlined on a map, also includes the haunts of well-known African Americans who have made the Vineyard a favored summer vacation destination for black glitterati in more recent years.

Among them: Shearer Cottage, the first guest house on the island to open its doors to blacks. Located in Oak Bluffs, it has played host to Paul Robeson, Ethel Waters and Martin Luther King Jr., among others. The home of Dorothy West, one of few surviving writers of the Harlem Renaissance, is near Shearer Cottage.

Taking the whole tour would require a car and about two hours. Since several of the sites are concentrated in the town of Oak Bluffs, however, much of the tour can be covered on foot.

For her students and other interested parties, Weintraub offers two guided tours of the sites annually, in February and in springtime.

For further information or copies of the booklet and map, which cost $5, write to Weintraub at P.O. Box 234, West Tisbury, Mass. 02575 or Tankard at P.O. Box 626, Oak Bluffs, Mass. 02557.


   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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