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Hate groups target Black businesses on Martha’s Vineyard

Nicole Duncan-Smith
Hate groups target Black businesses on Martha’s Vineyard
Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. PHOTO: HORACE GORDON

Authorities are on high alert after signs bearing the website of the white supremacist group Patriot Front were discovered outside two Black-owned businesses in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard.

Cape and Islands District Attorney Robert Galibois says he informed all 22 district police chiefs while collaborating with Massachusetts State Police detectives to address this matter.

“If you observe any of these signs on public property or private property without the owner’s permission, then please notify your local police department,” the DA’s office posted.

The Oak Bluffs Police Department is also currently looking for whoever posted the signs, officials say.

Oak Bluffs Police Chief Jonathan Searle said the three signs were spotted on Sunday, Sept. 3, in the historically Black community and have since been removed. The signs were found at the intersection of Dukes County Avenue and Siloam Avenue, near the Black-owned businesses Biscuits and Eleven Circuit Restaurant and Bar.

Two of them were featured on the department’s website.

One sign said “AMERICA FIRST” in big, bright red letters over the blue lettering of the organization’s website address. The other sign said, “STRONG FAMILIES, STRONG NATIONS” in the same colors. This sign included a blue sketch of a child, a woman and a man. This sign also featured the group’s web address.

On Tuesday, Searle said a fourth sign was discovered at Circuit Avenue Extension, and the department is engaged in “an active and thorough investigation.”

Arthur Hardy-Doubleday said he was walking to brunch when he saw the signs promoting the group and called Oak Bluffs Police. However, he said he was disappointed with the agency’s “lackluster response.”

“The officer who answered the phone was already aware of the hate group sign. In fact, the officer stated that he normally removes signs from telephone poles, but because the sign was placed too high, there was nothing he could do,” Hardy-Doubleday wrote on Facebook. “I asked him to repeat that, and he stated the highway department would likely take it down on Tuesday. I couldn’t let this go.”

Hardy-Doubleday said he asked a man who walked by for a ladder. When he returned with a ladder, the man took down the sign. Hardy-Doubleday sent a letter with a formal complaint to the police department on Sept. 6.

“I hope the department changes its policy very soon. This was unacceptable,” Hardy-Doubleday wrote on social media.

Oak Bluffs, located on Martha’s Vineyard’s northern tip, has been a historic gathering place for Black families during summers.

The island’s Black presence began with enslaved individuals, servants and whalers in the mid-1800s when whaling was prominent in the Northeast. After the decline of the whale oil trade, Martha’s Vineyard became a vacation destination.

When Massachusetts abolished slavery in 1783, it provided a safe haven for free Black people in the 18th and 19th centuries.

After the Fugitive Slave Act was enacted, islanders like Rev. William Jackson made it their mission to stop hunters of free Blacks who would take them down South to be enslaved. He and others contributed immensely to the island’s roots with the Underground Railroad.

After World War II, as the Black population grew and became more affluent, families purchased cottages and vacation homes on the island. Many of these properties remain in their descendants’ hands today.

The Patriot Front, founded after the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, is classified as a white supremacist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. It advocates for establishing a white ethnostate in the United States.

The Texas-based organization led a 100-man flash demonstration in Boston in July 2022. They marched along the Freedom Trail along with selected famous Boston landmarks, dressed uniformly in khaki pants, dark shirts, hats, sunglasses and face coverings, and shouted their mantra, “Reclaim America.”

A Black special education teacher who’s also a musician says members of the white nationalist group assaulted him during the demonstration.

Nicole Duncan-Smith is a contributing journalist at AtlantaBlackStar.com.