African American Heritage trail designates new site – The Martha’s Vineyard Times

The African American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard (AAHTMV) unveiled a new site along its trail on Wednesday, honoring an old business in Oak Bluffs. 

The site is the first of AAHTMV’s Black Business Trail, which will include both historical and contemporary examples of Black enterprise in Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven. 

The African American Heritage Trail plans to continue building this section of the Trail throughout the year.

The 37th site recognizes Robert and Shirley Graves’ business, Graves Machine & Tool Company. After raising eight children in Springfield, Robert and Shirley Graves took their business to Uncas Avenue in Oak Bluffs, which is now the Barn Bowl & Bistro.

The business rebuilt the ring chute for the Flying Horses carousel in Oak Bluffs, built the Campground entrance arch and serviced contracts with companies like Raytheon, Polaroid and Duracell. The business was open for 27 years.

The shop’s slogan was, “We can repair anything except a broken heart or the crack of dawn.”

Shirley Graves was also the longtime treasurer of the Martha’s Vineyard chapter of the NAACP.

Several generations of the Graves family still live on the Island today. On Wednesday, Robert and Shirley’s great-grandchildren led the ceremony. Joel Graves, Robert and Shirley Graves’ grandson, was the one who suggested that the Trail honor his grandparents. 

At Bob Graves’ memorial service, Joel Graves brought up adding a site to Elaine Cawley Weintraub, the co-founder of the Trail. 

“We talked about it, and the more we thought about it, it was more important, because we don’t always recognize all of history and all of the aspects of people’s lives… it’s the lives of people who are our neighbors, and friends, and part of our community,” said Weintraub. “Bob came here from Springfield, Mass with his wife and family, started a business here, and became part of a community.”

Weintraub decided that not only would the Trail designate Graves Machine & Tool Company’s former location, but that it would be the first of the Black Owned Business section of the trail.

The African American Heritage Trail places descriptive plaques at sites where people of African descent have made contributions to the Island. There are already several stops on the trail that are businesses, most notably the Shearer Cottage. The Shearer Cottage was the first African American-owned guest house on the Vineyard. However, Graves Machine & Tool Company is the first site on the trail to be recognized for its status as a Black Owned Business.

“I knew Bob and Shirley Graves, and of course I know their family. I taught their grandchildren,” Weintraub said. “Personally, it gives me great satisfaction to honor a family I knew well.”

Peter Graves, Bob and Shirley’s youngest son, reflected on Bob Graves’ impact on him and his siblings. “I think he instilled in us the value of doing your job, doing it well and to keep on working,” Peter Graves said.

Joel Graves added that he’s “proud” of having the last name Graves on the Island.

“The people that have been on the Vineyard for a long time know who my grandparents were, and know the Graves name from them,” Joel Graves said.

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