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Inkwell Beach on Martha's Vineyard: A Storied Oasis of Culture and Community

Are you looking to take a swim in the beautiful turquoise waters of Inkwell Beach or immerse yourself in the profound stories along the African American Heritage Trail? This destination is a treasure trove of activities and historical exploration!



Originally an industrial hub for whaling, brick-making, and farming, Martha's Vineyard has evolved into a beloved summer resort community. Notably, the town of Oak Bluffs has been a welcoming haven for African-American beachgoers since the late 1800s, despite the island's historically limited accessibility to vacationers of color.

The religious revivals of the late 18th century played a pivotal role in attracting African Americans to Martha’s Vineyard. Many initially arrived to work for summer residents, but over time, many chose to make the island their permanent home, purchasing properties and establishing inns. By the 1920s, as per, African-American residents began offering lodging in quaint cottages, attracting visitors from major Northeastern cities like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.


The beach, affectionately called Inkwell, carries a name with dual interpretations. It was possibly termed pejoratively by white locals, alluding to the complexion of its visitors, or it might be a tribute to the creative minds who visited its shores, including the esteemed black writers of the Harlem Renaissance, akin to the ink used in their pens.  With its gentle bay-side waves, it's an ideal spot for families. The beach thrives with activity, hosting a morning polar bear swim club and bustling with visitors enjoying the sun, and sea, and socializing throughout the day and into the evening.



The African American Heritage Trail offers an enlightening journey through the Vineyard's black history and notable residents. The trail, marked with over 30 informative plaques, traverses the island, recounting a spectrum of narratives from its black history. These stories include those of enslaved individuals like Rebecca Amos and accounts of fugitives escaping slavery, aided by the Wampanoag tribe members in Aquinnah.

Other significant stops highlight the life of Nancy Michael, an enslaved woman who earned respect from sailors, and her grandson, William A. Martin, Martha’s Vineyard's only African-American Master of Whaling Ships. The trail also celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit of the Vineyard's black community, exemplified by the Shearers and other black visitors who transformed their vacation stays into permanent residences and businesses.

In 1912, Charles and Henrietta Shearer established the first African American-owned inn on the island, a beacon for black Americans during segregation. This guesthouse became a sanctuary for prominent black artists, embodying Maya Angelou's description of Oak Bluffs as "a safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned," according to The Martha’s Vineyard Times. Today, the Shearer Cottage remains under the stewardship of the Shearers’ descendants.


Photo Credit Martha's Vineyard Times


The trail's stops in Oak Bluffs include the Bradley Memorial Church, Eastville Cemetery, Shearer Cottage, Gospel Tabernacle, Powell Cottage (formerly owned by Adam Clayton Powell, a civil rights legislative leader), the home of writer Dorothy West, and several other historically significant sites.

To delve deeper into the history and significance of these sites, a visit to the African American Heritage Trail of Martha's Vineyard’s website is highly recommended.

Love Inkwell and OB and want to vacation here or possibly purchase your Martha's Vineyard dream home? Let's talk! 

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