Cinnamon Traveler jumped off in August 1997, at a dining room table at a Cable Beach restaurant in Nassau, Bahamas. Basically at first, just the idea of “Cinnamon Traveler” was discussed.
At the time I was hanging tough with a friend that had a boat and they operated “clean” i.e. non-alcohol, half day snorkeling adventures around Providence and Paradise Islands in the Bahamas. I was inspired by the ingenuity and frankly it seemed like a relatively easy prospect for making a living. Not to mention it appeared to be a lot of fun. So there we were all together, my friend and their friends, enjoying each others company on a Friday evening in Nassau, the food was good and the beverages were oh so very nice.
Well you know how it is when people from different places get together… Bellies full, all comfortable and things, everyone on their semi-best behavior, while carefully getting to know one another;
Blah, blah, blah, Floss, Flex and Impress. Yada, yada, yada.
You know how it goes. So yeah, I too was All Smiles, Looking Fly and Getting It In.
The reason that New Yorkers have the reputation for being direct and upfront is because where we are from, you have to say what you mean and do what you say.
If you lie, you will be outed.
And if you lie too much you will be outed, ousted and ostracized. PERIOD!
Sounds rough, but not really, It ‘s just how it goes.
Hence, I had to get back to New York to make my…ahem, ”idea” a reality. So in the Fall of 1997, I pitched the “idea” to the Managing Editor of Our Time Press, Bernice Greene and she supported, encouraged and made sure that I brought Cinnamon Traveler to life.
After much guidance, research, writing and prayer, Cinnamon Traveler was born January 1, 1998. For five months through May 1998, Cinnamon Traveler appearred in Our Time Press, as a destination based travel review column.
January 1998 “Martha’s Vineyard; February 1998 “National Association of Black Scuba Divers, Nassau and PI”; March 1998 “Sag Harbor”; April 1998 “Weekend Getaways From New York”; May 1998 “Virginia Beach”.
June 1998 “U.S. Virgin Islands” was published online at the original version of the Cinnamon Traveler website.
Also in June 1998 we surrendered to the pull of MV, began Cinnamon Traveler Vineyard Tours full time and were living on Island in a two bedroom Up Island guest house. Within less than 12 months from the time that the idea was created, I had become a full-time corporate defector, had dragged Senor and Cool Papa out of Brooklyn to become Vineyarders, year round. Fortunately, Big Papa stayed behind and held it down in Brooklyn, so that we would always have a place in New York, whenever we needed to go, “Back Home.”
Over the last decade the family has grown, our base of operation has changed and some Island businesses have subsequently become, points in history. Yet despite the passage of time, our allegiance to the Vineyard remains surprising strong.
To my extreme delight, earlier this year I found an archived copy of the first column at the Our Time Press website. Naturally I immediately executed a copy and paste.
So despite the grammatical challenges, contractions and all…
Below is the original essay, which documents how it all began.
From the Desk of… the Cinnamon Traveler Grace Lynis, January 1, 1998 .
It made me leery to learn that my family and the nation’s President would be vacationing on the island of Martha’s Vineyard at the same time. I already wondered whether the popular New England island familiarly known as the Vineyard was big enough to accommodate my bone-weary family of three, much less Bill with his entourage and the accompanying gridlock. Fortunately, my concerns were quickly put to rest when I realized that privacy and anonymity are taken quite seriously and afforded to everyone on the Vineyard, from the nation’s Chief Executive to skeptical Brooklynites.
The Vineyard is a triangular shaped island seven miles off the southeast coast of Massachusetts in the Atlantic Ocean. Watersports abound including jetskiing, kayaking, parasailing, swimming, fishing and sailing. Water sporting equipment is usually in good condition and rates are comparable with other seaside communities in the U.S. and the Caribbean.
For landlubbers there are a host of hiking trails, through the Vineyard’s many wooded areas, two wildlife sanctuaries and two campgrounds. Bicycling is a popular and a major mode of transportation between the islands six towns. What a pleasure it was to see motorists and cyclists sharing the road cooperatively. Warning: the Vineyard does not view mopeds as favorably, as accident statistics involving mopeds are high. Be forewarned and be forearmed.
Driving to the Vineyard was akin to visiting the Caribbean in the comfort of your own car sans the hassles of customs. While there I experienced feelings of safety and grounding rarely felt elsewhere, sort of a shedding of arms. As a parent I felt more secure permitting my son to hang out with friends. On the Vineyard, the notion of hanging in the street changed to being outdoors. As an urban parent this subtle transformation felt liberating. If you’ve ever felt this lightness, you know what I mean. I’m certain that the early African-American visitors to the island felt this same way. As one of the first U.S. resort communities to welcome African-Americans, the thriving communities have burrowed deep roots into Vineyard soil.
The rich African Diaspora history of New England makes a culture-focused vacation very rewarding. Massachusetts alone has at least three African American heritage trails, one on Martha’s Vineyard, contributing greatly to the states historical mosaic. Public records from as early as the 18th century attest to the wealth of history represented by the extensive heritage and culture of African-Americans on the Vineyard that continues to this day. Dr. Martin Luther King, Paul Robeson and Ethel Waters are only a sampling of distinguished visitors of the recent past who enjoyed the island. Today’s Black celebrities continue to appreciate the comforts of the island including Shaquille O’Neal who’s been sighted practicing his game on the basketball courts on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs and Angela Davis seen relaxing on the calm shores of Vineyard waters. African Americans have also been land owners for many generations including author Jill Nelson a member of this community since the 1950s and Film Producer Spike Lee has enjoyed the tranquility of his home on Martha’s Vineyard for several years.
A few of the many African American contributions to Vineyard life from both the past and present are captured and celebrated in the African American Heritage Trail.
The self guided tour was researched and designed by the Vineyard’s NAACP vice-president Carrie Tankard and local historian Elaine Weintraub. The nine stop trail begins in Menemsha, where in 1854 Randall Burton a fugitive from enslavement, with the help of the Wampanoag, succeeded in escaping to Canada and freedom. In the town of Oak Bluffs it’s believed that Methodism was brought to the island by John Saunders and his wife sometime after their arrival to the island in 1787. After purchasing their freedom from bondage in Virginia they traveled to the Vineyard, where Saunders preached occasionally to the people of color at Farm Neck. There is a rock in the Farm Neck area known as Pulpit Rock where Saunders spread the word of God. At the time of this printing contributions have been raised for the dedication of a plaque to be placed at Pulpit Rock. Also included on the trail are the homes of Dorothy West, the longest surviving Harlem Renaissance writer and the 19th century home of the Vineyard’s only known African American whaling captain William A. Martin.
Although more welcoming than in other parts in the U.S., life for those of African descent on the Vineyard was not without discrimination and prejudice, as exhibited by the strange position of the headstone on the grave of Captain William A. Martin. Relative to the other headstones, his faces the wrong direction. Surrounded by forest on three sides and the sea on the fourth, upon entering the grounds, the Captain’s was the only stone that was not immediately identifiable. After thorough research for a Native or African American custom dictating its direction, it became apparent that its position was a result of prejudice against African ancestry. Overcoming the constraints of racism was Charles Shearer a man born into slavery in Appomattox Virginia. After emancipation and graduation from Hampton Institute, Shearer bought a home in Oak Bluffs that was used originally as a laundry business. Built in 1909, Shearer Cottage became the first African-American owned inn where African Americans could stay. In the early part of this century, it became the center of African American culture on the Vineyard, complete with a summer theater that included plays and events enjoyed by the entire Vineyard community. The Shearer Cottage continues to welcome guests each summer and in August 1997 hosted the dedication for the installation of the first plaque on the African American Heritage trail.
In addition to New England style soul the island has a kaleidoscope of natural attractions. Beyond the famous Inkwell, the Vineyard is surrounded by the ocean and literally has beaches at every turn. Each town has at least one public beach which has its own special characteristics and charm. One of my favorites was Moshup Beach in Aquinnah. Lying at the foot of clay cliffs, Aquinnah is Up island, on the islands southwest tip. Its name means land under the hill in the language of the island’s First Nation, the Wampanoag. Aquinnah was the original home of the Wampanoag who have continued to maintain their culture and heritage on the island. An active tribal council is part of the island’s government and politics. Aquinnah is also known as Gay Head, describing the radiant, rainbow-like range of colors of the clay cliffs. Like many oceanside areas, Aquinnah is being eroded by the sea and environment. To preserve its majestic cliffs, as a national monument, restrictions on vehicular traffic and other measures have been enacted. A fee paid parking lot is located on the plateau of the cliffs from which a 3 mile scenic foot path descends to the beach.
Cape Cod: Whale watching off the coast of Cape is a great day trip. Take the ferry to Woods Hole on Cape Cod. About a handful of operations offer different whale watching cruises. Prices vary based on the services provided. Check the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce for specifics.
Nantucket Island is also only a day trip away. A 10:00 a.m. ferry leaves Oak Bluffs daily for a two hour 15 minute ride that arrives just in time for lunch. After lunch visit the African Meeting House at York & Pleasant Streets and then the Nantucket Whaling Museum, where I understand some of the history of the hundreds of African American seaman is exhibited. If there is time left browse or shop in the island’s art galleries and craft shops until the last ferry leaves at around 4:00 p.m.
Driving from New York you can get a ferry to the island in either Woods Hole or New Bedford MA. Cape-Island Express Lines (508 957-1688) provides ferry service to Vineyard Haven from New Bedford for passengers only. That ferry line operates a fee paid lot where you can park your car on the mainland for the duration of your stay. Steamship Authority (508 477-8600) provides ferry service from Woods Hole to both Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs and they also operate a fee paid parking lot on the mainland or you can make reservations for your car to be ferried with you to the Vineyard. Reservations are suggested during off season and are absolutely necessary during summer season. Mail-in registrations are accepted between 1/15/98 – 2/15/98 and phone/fax registrations accepted after 3/1/98.
Bonanza Bus Lines (800 556-3815) provides bus service from New York Port Authority to Woods Hole, MA, where you can get the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. Yellow Bus (508 693-1589) and a handful of taxi companies cover the island satisfactorily.
Where to Stay
Inns: Although there isn’t a directory of African American inns there are several including the Shearer Cottage (508 693-4735) in Oak Bluffs, the first African American owned guest house where African Americans could stay on the Vineyard. Twin Oaks Inn (508 693-8633) in Vineyard Haven is owned and operated by Doris & Jay Clark. The four-room guest house is opened year round and included in Twin Oaks property is a one bedroom apartment with private entrance and around the corner is a 3 bedroom house. Currently living on the Vineyard year round, Doris is always familiar with what is happening culturally on the island.
African American Heritage Trail: is a self guided tour that can be done by car or if you are an avid bicyclist can be done as a bicycling one or two day trip. If bicycling check the bicycling web-site listed below and check maps and guidebooks for accommodation details. Plaques have been placed on two of the nine stops of the trail and in addition to proceeds from the sale of the booklet African American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard fund-raising is in progress to furnish the remaining plaques. To purchase copies of the booklet $5.00 or to get details about the trail write Carrie C. Tankard, P.O. Box 626, Oak Bluffs 02557 or call the 508 693-2797 Chamber of Commerce for information on whale sighting operators at 508 362-3225.