Growing up in Arlington, Massachusetts, I didn't see many African-Americans. Back then, we called them Blacks, and some called them worse!. But, there just weren't many around. We had one Black family, and their two daughters were in school with me. I was struck by the fact that one of them was White! I didn't understand how that could work, but she explained that she was adopted. Then it made sense.
Down, on Martha's Vineyard there were plenty of Black families. In fact, there were all sorts of ethnic groups; the Island was quite the melting pot of different peoples, and I was duly proud of that.
And then I learned about the Inkwell.
On the Island, near Oak Bluffs were the two main beaches. The nearby one, the one my friends and I could walk to, was called Town Beach. Then, out between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown was State Beach. That was the big one, the one with the two bridges that we could jump from, and the lagoon on the landward side. If you've seen the movie "Jaws", you've seen State Beach, the bridge and the lagoon.
And then there was the Inkwell.
Between Town and State Beach was this narrow strip of land right in front of the Seaview Hotel. It looked like a fine little beach, and I began to wonder about it; why didn't we ever go there? Finally, I asked my Father about it, and he said that it was the Inkwell; it was the Colored beach, and we didn't go there.
I had to wonder - colored? Did that mean that the beach was different colors; did it have a rainbow of different colored sands? I had a lot to learn. So, I asked, what did that mean? My Father explained that - years ago - the White people went to one beach, and the Blacks went to the Inkwell.
I was still confused. Why would they do that?
He explained that that's the way things were, in the old days. By that, he meant before the 1960's! I asked if there was a law about it. He said no, it was just - understood. If you were Black, you did not go to the White beach; unless you wanted trouble.
I was totally shocked. Segregation on Martha's Vineyard? It seemed my perfect world had not always been so perfect. And here I thought that segregation had only existed in the South. I had seen that - to a certain extent, when we visited Florida, when I was very young. The first time we went to a cafeteria, this big tall Black man had taken my tray. Needless to say, I was surprised, and upset. But, I wasn't about to argue with him. If he wanted it, he could have it!
Turned out, he was the porter, and it was his job to get my drink and carry my tray to the table. I couldn't understand why he had to do that. After all, it was easy enough for me to do it. My Mother explained that this was how things were done in the South. After that, I saw other signs of the separation of the races. Later, I learned about the overt laws that had existed in the South for many decades.
Yet, I never thought that such things had occurred in my home state. It was left to my parents to explain that racism and forced segregation didn't need blatant laws to be enforced; it only needed the apathy of the good! That saddened me more than anything else in my life, up 'til then. That was a lot for a seven-year-old to take in. Yet, my parents also told me that I could be proud of the progress that had been made. They said that, maybe in my lifetime, we'd see a total end to such things.
So, I asked again: could we go to that beach?
They thought about it, and realized that I was right; there was no reason we couldn't go there. I can't say that it was the best beach; it was kind of stony, as I recall, and the jetty wasn't much good for jumping from. But, I was happy to see that we weren't the only non-Black family there.
Today, the beach is still there, and many still call it the Inkwell. Yet, I have to wonder how many remember the origin of the name? And, I have to also wonder: is it important that we remember how it got that name, or is it a good thing to let that memory fade?
There's a saying that says those who forget the past are doomed to re-live it. Does that apply to segregation? The origin of the Inkwell is not a proud piece of history, but I do think it's an important part. Hell yes; I say we remember, and pledge to forever move forward on how we treat each other.
Click here for more by AJ Robinson.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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