My Chamber

Black History on Cape Cod

African Americans, Cape Verdeans and other people of color have helped shape Cape Cod into what it is today, playing an integral role in the local whaling and cranberry industries, arts and sciences, and the civil rights movement.

The Zion Union Heritage Museum in Hyannis celebrates this rich history, and the many contributions that people of color have made to the region over time, through a collection of artifacts, art, books and documents.

The Cape Verdean Club of Falmouth, the oldest of its kind in the United States,  aims to raise awareness and educate the community about the Cape Verdean culture on Cape Cod, and holds an annual Cape Verdean Festival in the fall.

Two civil rights activists with strong ties to Cape Cod are also among the Cape’s female trailblazers.

Margaret Moseley
Community peace and civil rights activist Margaret Moseley (1901-1997) graduated Dedham High in 1919, but was unable to pursue a career in nursing due to racial discrimination. A true humanitarian, she viewed her personal suffering as insight for understanding the same suffering of larger numbers of people who did not have the self-belief to speak out, and rose to activism. Years later, after moving to the Cape in 1961, she helped establish local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and talked with the Sunday school children at the Unitarian Church of Barnstable about meeting Martin Luther King in 1958. Moseley’s unwavering fight against prejudice and injustice and devotion to her local community led her to identify one of Cape Cod’s greatest needs as nondiscrimination and non-segregation in housing. She responded by founding the first Fair Housing Committee. On a global scale, Moseley served as a legislative chairman for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, going to the UN as often as she could in place of those who couldn’t. Her community outreach on the Cape was tireless, and Moseley worked for one cause after another, including the Mass. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands.

Eugenia Fortes

Civil rights activist Eugenia Fortes (1911-2006), emigrated to Whaling City, New Bedford from the Cape Verde Islands when she was nine, the first of long journeys she would gather fortitude from. She worked at the pearl company in Hyannis, then later as a housekeeper for a Hyannisport family for over two decades. Her fight for racial equality began on the local sands of the then segregated East Beach in Hyannisport where she was visiting with a friend in 1945, and asked by police to leave. She refused. The following year, when a group attempted to buy and privatize the beach, she spoke out at a town council meeting of the discrimination she faced, and years later in 2004, East Beach was renamed Eugenia Fortes Beach. In 1961, she founded the Cape Cod chapter of the NAACP. Champion for the poor, she helped house and feed the reverse freedom riders upon their arrival in Hyannis all the while sending food and clothing to the impoverished Deep South for 25 years. Fortes served on the Hyannis library board of directors for forty years. A walk on the Eugenia Fortes Beach will bring you to a dedication plaque named for Fortes, mounted on a boulder made of the same Cape Cod stone used for President Kennedy’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery. Some of her personal items are also enshrined at the Zion Union Heritage Museum.

Governor Charlie Baker issued a proclamation declaring June 19, 2020 as “Juneteenth Independence Day” in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Celebrated each year on June 19th, Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, and is an opportunity to reflect on the need to continue working toward racial justice.

Helpful Links
Zion Union Heritage Museum
Cape Verdean Club
Woods Hole Black History Month
African American Trail of Martha’s Vineyard
Black Heritage Trail on Nantucket
Museum of African American History on Nantucket