Black Star News' Summer 2017 Travel Diary: The 'Free Soil' Of 'Old Massachusetts'

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Summertime in New England. Its a notion writers have been pondering since Fredrick Douglas traveled to the island of Nantucket on August 11, 1841. There, at age 23, Douglas gave his first public anti-slavery speech. Looking out from the podium, a sea of White people was staring back at him.  As one of only a few African-Americans in the Nantucket Atheneum that evening Douglas recalled: “It was with the utmost difficulty that I could stand erect, or that I could command and articulate two words without hesitation and stammering,”  Yet, William Garrison, publisher of the Boston weekly journal The Liberator was so moved by Douglas, he rose to his feet.  “Have we been listening to a thing, a piece of property, or a man?” Garrison bellowed.

The crowd of 500 shouted back “A man! A man!”

“Shall such a man be held a slave in a Christian land?” Garrison questioned. “Shall such a man ever be sent back to bondage from the free soil of old Massachusetts?"

The crowd stood up and shouted “No! No! No!”

Money was raised on the spot that ultimately propelled Douglas on a six month tour of speaking engagements.

That event, extensively covered by The Liberator, went 'viral' by word of mouth throughout the plantations of Southern slave territory. That there were islands of the coast of Massachusetts where White people were sympathetic to the plight of runaway slaves. Over time, the black population of Nantucket -and neighboring island, Martha' s Vineyard- grew in numbers that can be visibly noticed to this day. In fact, there is still quite a few African-Americans who populate both islands that are decedents of runaway slaves.

Cape Cod has also become much less Andy Griffith Show over time and is now home to many immigrant populations. Jamaicans, Brazilians, even Nepalese communities now call Barnstable County home.  

That diversity is one of the great achievements of Garrison's "old Massachusetts," particularly in the eastern half of the state. And for people of color looking for a stress free vacation spot, there is no better destination then the trifecta of Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket & Cape Cod.

Yet, on the opposite side of the of state in Berkshire county, minorities are uber welcome in the leafy Berkshire towns of Lenox and Great Barrington, whether it is the on or off season.

Vacationing at any of these Bay State locations are guaranteed to be memorable long after summer ends. BLACK STAR NEWS spent the summer exploring some of the best locations in Massachusetts we could find.


There is no more authentic Cape Cod experience than having lunch portside with Billy Moore, proprietor of Spanky's Clam Shack on Ocean St. in Hyannis. 

 "I grew up right here on the Cape," Billy said with a thick New England accent. His skin, tan and cracked from decades of sun and salt exposure, is proof positive, he is an official "wharf rat."

"And for the last fifty years, I have eaten in all these wharfs. I have had clam chowder at sea with all the old captains. I don't know a lot of things, but one thing I do know is how to make good Cape Cod cuisine."

Looking at the line of people waiting to get a table, I would guess they agree. 

" I love Spanky's," one elderly lady in line told me, "and I am a local."

Billy and I sat down at the outdoor table while boats drifted by and seagulls chirped above.

"Have a Gansett," Billy said as a waitress brought over a Narragansett Del Shandy, a lemon infused lager.

She also dropped down one of Spanyk's legendary clam rolls, something that looked like it belonged on Man vs. Food. It was over a pound of fried clams on one hotdog bun. I have been to a lot of clam shacks and seafood joints all over New England, from Maine to Rhode Island and nothing tops Spanky's. Everything they serve- from littlenecks and oysters to baked stuffed lobster is over the top amazing. Their chowders, including a "seafood stew," which Billy invinted himself is not just Spanky's magus-opus, but for the entire cape itself. .  

As we ate, Billy talked about life by the sea. "I wouldn't want to live anywhere else," Billy earnestly said behind a plate of empty lobster shells. He made many recommendations for us, like Aunt Leah's fudge in Nantucket and the Surfside Grill, built right on the town of Dennis' Corporation Beach.

"But you got go to the Aquinnah reservation on the western point of Martha's Vineyard," Billy implored "your readers will love it there."


As I drove towards the Aquinnah territory on Martha's Vineyard I had a major case of deja vu even though it was my first visit. I later realized I had driven on a road that was used for the film Jaws, when Chief Brody whizzes by a light house on his way to the shark's first victim. MVI is really one of the more mesmerizing vacation spots on the east coast. It is why many U.S. Presidents and celebrities all flock to the Vineyard when summer comes around. The quaint towns have not changed in decades and even with the throngs of tourists, their charm still shines through.

Aquinnah may be the most stunning part of the island. High above the sea, the cliffs offer remarkable views. At its high peak sits a small cluster of restaurants and gift shops. Sampling traditional Native American dishes on the terrace of The Aquinnah Shop Restaurant high above the Atlantic was defiantly one of the high points of this reporter's travels. Plus the money spent at Aquinnah goes directly into the pockets of those who need it most, the local indigenous population.


On the other side of the state in what is known as the Berkshires, music lovers from around the world go out of their way to experience one of the most unique outdoor music venues in excistence. Nestled in over 200 acres of land, Tanglewood is more than just a music venue, its a slice of utopia. The Boston Symphony Orchestra, who camps out at Tanglewood all summer offers a wide variety of music, including several pop acts at the beginning and end of each season. I was lucky enough to witness a collaborative effort between the BSO and The Who's Pete Towsand performing the latter;s 1973 rock-opera Quadrophenia. Pete may have retired his trademark "windmill" guitar playing, but his hyper-strumming was still as frantic as ever. Who lead singer Roger Daltrey was replaced with an actual opera singer, augmented slightly with 80's pop singer Billy Idol. Quadrophenia, is one of the Who's boldest and most fully envisioned albums, but it's never quite gotten the live show deserved. Tanglewood rectified that, minus the cringe worthy moments when a classically trained tenor bops around the stage like Axl Rose at a Karaoke contest. Whirling the mike around with two feet of wire in homage to Daltrey, who would do the same with over ten feet of cable was just downright ridiculous. But, the cool evening breeze was so awesome that night- even a few drops of rain fell during the song  "Love, Reign o'er Me," was quite an anomaly.

The annual Tanglewood on Parade, which always includes a set conducted by film composer John Williams with the Boston Pops- accompanied with fireworks- is one event you don't want to miss. This year, Mr. Williams performed the Throne Room and the End Title from 1977's sci-fi classic Star Wars, melting thousands of minds simultaneously.


One place I have been itching to visit for years is The Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington. The Mahaiwe is one of the most beautifully resorted theaters in the country and its acoustics are second to none. The night I went Wynton Marsalis performed with his hyper controlled conservative jazz orchestra. There performance was perfect,  maybe even a little too perfect. Yet, under that rubric, the compositions from the 1920's were so spot on, it literally felt like time travel, transporting the audience back in time.

Great Barrington is also the birthplace of W.E.B. DuBois. Where he was born and once lived is now a national landmark. The house is gone, but the land itself remains. The only artifact of DuBios that remains from his childhood years in the Berkshires is a small childhood chair that strangely ended up and is currently displayed at the home of Moby Dick author Herman Melville's Arrowhead Ranch, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.


For many authors and writers in the United States and abroad, visiting Herman Melville's Arrowhead is equivalent to a pilgrimage to a Mecca. Why that is so is simple. The ambient atmosphere inside the house in juxtaposition to the  mountains outside that are seen from every widow lets the visitor clearly see how Meville's surroundings influenced his creative flow writing "America's Illad," Moby Dick. You can imagine Melville, loaded up on opium, descending into madness challenging the book's main character Captain Ahab; How the mountains became the sea and the house transformed into the Pequod( boat). Arrowhead serves as a testimony to a writer who creatively went too far while writing his epic, whaling tale, that generation after generation has consistently misunderstood.


Driving back east to the Cape from the Berkshires, I started  to seriously jones for BBQ. And the Brazilian Grill in Hyannis is one of the best joints in the area to get a fix. For one reasonable price, you get bombarded with food. Brisket, short-ribs, chicken, Brazilian sausage, even grilled pineapple come at you like a whirlwind, For anyone who loves Brazilian BBQ, this is one place you don't want to miss.

A few miles away, on Dennis Cape Cod's beautiful Corporation Beach is a small little seasonal hut, the Surfside Grill. TSG is really worth the visit. Not only is the seafood affordable and off the hook, it has one of the best views of any restaurant I have seen to since Windows of the World came crashing down sixteen yeas ago. The vibe is also quite chill. If you want to know where all the Deadheads went after Jerry passed away, some of them chill seaside all summer at the Surfside Grill.

As the sun set over the horizon and TSG begun to close up, I thought to myself. "I have to do this all again next year."

You should too.


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