Oak Bluffs Select Board and NAACP clash over flying Juneteenth flag

The Select Board says their new flag policy prohibits flying the Juneteenth flag, but the NAACP disagrees.

The Juneteenth flag, commemorating the day that slavery ended in the U.S., flies in Omaha, Neb. in June 2020. AP Photo/Nati Harnik

A conflict between the Oak Bluffs Select Board and the Martha’s Vineyard Branch of the NAACP is brewing over raising the Juneteenth flag on town property.

According to an email provided to Boston.com by Martha’s Vineyard NAACP President Arthur Hardy-Doubleday, the Select Board is refusing the NAACP’s request to fly the Juneteenth flag on a park flagpole this month, citing an interim flag policy they say limits what flags can be flown on town property.

But Hardy-Doubleday argues that the language in the flag policy states what flags will regularly be flown on town property, but does not prohibit flying other flags.


Additionally, he says, the Select Board agreed to fly a Pride flag this month.

“Juneteenth has long had deep significance to African Americans and to the Oak Bluffs community, and this year for the first time it’s being celebrated as both a federal and a state holiday. We believe that the town of Oak Bluffs should be observing it too,” he said in a news release.

The Oak Bluffs Select Board was not immediately available for comment.


Juneteenth commemorates the day in June 1865 that word finally reached Texas that enslaved people were now free. This was almost two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and more than two months after the end of the Civil War.

The holiday has long been celebrated in Black communities in the United States on June 19, but has only been widely recognized in recent years.

According to Hardy-Doubleday, the NAACP applied on April 29 to have the Juneteenth flag flown on the Ocean Park flagpole from June 17 to June 20.

On May 9, Hardy-Doubleday says, the Oak Bluffs Parks Commission approved the request, pending the approval of the Select Board.

But the very next day, he says, the Select Board adopted a new, interim flag policy which approves the flying of the U.S., Massachusetts, and Oak Bluffs flags; official U.S. military flags; and the POW-MIA flag, but does not explicitly say that other flags cannot be flown.


According to Hardy-Doubleday, the Select Board also approved a request to fly a Pride flag for LGBTQ+ Pride month from June 1 to June 14.

A committee is now meeting to review the policy, which can be read below.

On June 3, Hardy-Doubleday says, the NAACP submitted a letter to the Select Board asking for the organization’s request to fly the Juneteenth flag to be put on the board’s agenda for June 14.

But on June 9, Hardy-Doubleday says, Select Board Chair Ryan Ruley called the NAACP to tell them the request would not be put on the Select Board’s agenda for June 14, citing the new flag policy.

Hardy-Doubleday provided Boston.com with a copy of a letter he received from Oak Bluffs Town Administrator Deborah Potter dated June 9 that declines his call for the Juneteenth flag request to be added to the June 14 Select Board agenda, citing the flag policy. The letter can be read below.

“[The NAACP believes] that the interim flag policy allows the Oak Bluffs select board to approve the flying of the Juneteenth flag,” Hardy-Doubleday said in the release.

“Their refusal to even allow us to make our case is, at best, disappointing. Juneteenth will be celebrated around the Island, but not by the Town of Oak Bluffs.”


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