July 10, 2011

Dear MV/NAACP Supporter:

With all the recent press on Bradley Square, you are probably wondering what happens now and where does it leave the MV/NAACP?

Over 102 years ago, Reverend Oscar K. Denniston renamed a small missionary in the heart of Oak Bluffs in honor of its founder, Susan Bradley, and started the first African American church on Martha’s Vineyard. For over half-century, the Bradley Memorial Church was an integral part of the Island community and is considered an invaluable anchor in the vibrant history of Portuguese, Cape Verdean, Wampanoag and African-American life on Martha’s Vineyard. The non-denominational church also served the social, cultural and economic need of the community.

It was this year-round church that was considered an integral piece of what made Oak Bluffs the capital of black summer life throughout the country. The church provided spiritual guidance, religious education, community development, social life, and involvement in humanitarian causes from 1907-1966. The church has been featured in documentaries and is part of the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Heritage Trail.

Closed for two generations and in a state of disrepair, the Bradley Memorial Church and the land around it was purchased by the Island Affordable Housing Fund in 2007 for $905,000 with hopes to restore the grand building and develop affordable housing on the site. In the summer of 2009 a groundbreaking ceremony with Governor Deval Patrick and Harvard Law Professor, Charles Ogletree was held. The MV/NAACP partnered with IAHF to strengthen and strategically achieve our mutual mission of ensuring economic equality for island citizens through home ownership and community development and embarked on a capital campaign in the summer of 2010 to help pay off the mortgage. The MV/NAACP was promised a permanent office space in the historic restoration of Bradley Memorial Church.

Island Affordable Housing Fund put the Bradley Square property (Denniston house) up for sale in September 2010, after it became clear it could not raise the money necessary to complete the project. The fund stopped making payments on the mortgage at that time. The property, which was bought for $905,000 at the peak of the latest real estate boom in 2007, was most recently listed for sale at $790,000.

In their efforts to sell the land, IAHF applied for a permit to demolish the building. In December of 2010, the Denniston house was issued a stay of execution as Oak Bluffs residents and officials rallied at the prospect of losing apart of Island history. The Oak Bluffs historic commission voted unanimously to designate the Denniston house for preferable preservation, blocking the issuance of a demolition permit.

In June of 2011, The Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank initiated foreclosure proceedings on Island Affordable Housing for failure to pay their mortgage on the building.

The MV/NAACP has not given up hope for this property and/or a future permanent home elsewhere. Donations that were given directly to IAHF for this project are lost. Donations that were given to the MV/NAACP to support Bradley Square are preserved in a separate bank account.

In economic times as restrictive as those facing our community, it is imperative upon us as leaders to identify, develop and seize the very best opportunities to succeed, grow and partner together to achieve our mission. Do you know of an organization, grant, or philanthropist, that shares our vision, you could contact on our behalf to help us buy this property or future home for the MV/NAACP?

It is our sincere belief that to preserve the kind of diverse community for which Martha’s Vineyard is known and which constitutes one of its major attractions, organizational and citizen involvement is required.

Laurie Perry-Henry
President, MV/NAACP

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