The shooting of a young, unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo., last year did little to disrupt the annual idyll of upper-class blacks on this island 1,200 miles away. Photos showed President Barack Obama dancing at a soiree for political power couple Vernon and Ann Jordan as Ferguson burned. The next afternoon he delivered an anodyne statement urging calm without mentioning race.
Obama returned this year for his sixth summer in office on Martha’s Vineyard, the island off the Massachusetts coast that has been a vacation destination for upwardly mobile African Americans for more than a century. But this year, many of the black doctors, lawyers, executives, professors and politicians who gather here to enjoy the sunshine, surf and cultural events are grappling with the realization that there may not be quite as much to celebrate as they once hoped.
Yes, the country has been led by a black president for nearly seven years. But images from body cameras and smart phones that have splashed police killings of unarmed black men across televisions and the Internet over the past year have forced the black elite to recognize — along with the rest of America — that their highest tide has left some boats sinking faster than ever.
“Middle-class African-Americans, the upper echelon, need to be cognizant of that,” said Linda D. Gaines, a regular summer resident of Martha’s Vineyard. “We cannot go back to our comfortable abodes and forget the struggle even though we don’t live next-door to less fortunate communities.”
The strides African Americans have taken in the American political establishment are on full display here each year. While Martha’s Vineyard has played host to black leaders for generations – Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X vacationed here – the top figures no longer lead protests. They lead the government.