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 home >> Civil Rights History Project >> Survey of Collections and Repositories >> Collections >> Collection Record

The Civil Rights History Project: Survey of Collections and Repositories

Martha's Vineyard Museum oral history archive

Repository: Martha's Vineyard Museum

Collection Description (CRHP): Celebrating and exploring the diversity of Martha's Vineyard is one of the main components of the museum's ongoing oral history project. It also focuses on the everyday folks who live in the island. The collection includes numerous interviews relating to the civil rights movement and African American history more broadly, and some are detailed below. All the interviews conducted of African Americans tend to speak about civil rights and racism. Included in this collection are interviews of five white women who worked with the local NAACP chapter and traveled to Williamston, South Carolina, in the mid-1960s to engage in activism. Sarah Small, a chaplain at the University of Massachusetts, was interviewed about this matter. An interview exists of freedom rider Woollcott Smith as well as Paul Chapman, who was associated with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Virginia Durr and Edward Brooke were interviewed for this project, though their interviews do not focus as much on their civil rights and political activism as they do on their relationship to the island. Durr's interview also explores her childhood. The collection also contains oral histories of famed African American painter Lois Mailou Jone and Harlem Renaissance writer Dorothy West. There are interviews on the life of Rev. Oscar K. Denniston, the first black minister in Martha's Vineyard. He was pastor of Bradley Memorial Church, and related material, including photographs, exists on the church at the museum. His son, Dean, as well as other relatives were interviewed for this project. Mary Holman, active in social causes in Boston, is interviewed as well as Leona Colman Slu. Her father was the first black director of the Negro Theatre Project prominent during the New Deal era. Joseph Stiles discusses racism during World War II, and James McLaurin, a Tuskegee airman, is interviewed about his experience. Helen Manning and Doris Pope Jackson are interviewed about Shearer Cottage, one of two places on the island where African Americans could stay. Famed African Americans Adam Clayton Powell, Harry T. Burleigh, and others stayed there. (For more information, see: The collection also includes interviews of Barbara Townes, an upper-class African American from Boston, and Pastor Marcia Buckley, an African American who does work with people in the prison system and who talked about her experience as one of the only African American students in her high school when John F. Kennedy was shot. Oral histories exist of Grace Frye, whose family owned a shoeshine business, and Milton Jeffers, who was a blacksmith.

Collection Description (Extant): The mission of the MVM Oral History Center is to promote the preservation and collection of Vineyard history, past and present, through recorded oral history interviews and related materials. In 1993, the Center was established at the Martha's Vineyard Museum (previously known as the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society) . . . .

In considering a museum's collective memory and historical consciousness, anthropologists and historians have long regarded individual oral testimonies to be a key factor in shaping a shared memory and identity. Moreover, these individual memories can serve to influence a society's shared set of attitudes, beliefs, and practices. Today, people of the Vineyard are constantly faced with decision which will have a lasting effect on the quality of life on Martha's Vineyard. An understanding of the values and decision[s] made in the past are of great importance. These recorded memories and observations of various Vineyarders deepen our understanding and appreciation of the past, broaden our awareness of the unique qualities of the Vineyard, and inform our individual and collective decisions regarding the Island.

Hearing the actual voices of the speaker gives vibrancy and immediacy to the histories and recollections of life on Martha's Vineyard preserved in the interviews. The vivid and often divergent personal perceptions of life captured in oral histories afford a sense of the past which goes beyond written histories. When using the MVM Oral History Archive the public is encouraged to listen to the tapes, and transcriptions of the interviews are available.

Collection URL: External Link

Digital Status: Partial

Extent: circa 1400 interviews (audio cassette; video; and DAT formats); transcripts; photographs

Language: English

Interviewees: Sarah Small, Woollcott Smith, Paul Chapman, Virginia Durr, Edward Brooke, Lois Mailou Jone, Dorothy West, Dean Denniston, Mary Holman, Leona Colman Slu, Joseph Stiles, and James McLaurin, Helen Manning, Doris Pope Jackson, Barbara Townes, Marcia Buckley, Grace Frye, Milton Jeffers

Rights (CRHP): Contact the repository which holds the collection for information on rights


African American churches--Massachusetts
African American students--Massachusetts
African Americans--Civil rights--Massachusetts
African Americans--Massachusetts
Civil rights movements--Massachusetts
Civil rights movements--South Carolina
Freedom Rides, 1961
Martha's Vineyard (Mass.)
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Southern Christian Leadership Conference
United States. Army Air Forces. Composite Group, 477th
World War, 1939-1945--Participation, African American


Sound recordings


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   May 15, 2015
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