"In my mind’s eye, it is July of 1949 and I am once again ten years old, walking down the stone steps of my grandparents’ summer cottage at 37 Myrtle Avenue in Oak Bluffs, on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. Followed closely by my sisters and brother, I enter onto the sandy road that is rarely traveled by anyone except the two other families that live on our street..."
(excerpt from The Place My Heart Calls Home)
The Place My Heart Calls Home is a memoir about a working-class African-American family’s summers on Martha’s Vineyard. The work evolved in response to the popular conception that the town of Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard Island is the center of the African American “elite,” and that one had to have a “certain pedigree” to live there. But that is not how it started. The Coleman family and many other working-class African-American families were fortunate to spend full summers there in obvious contradiction to that belief.
It is not unusual for families to create summer getaways. What is different about our family’s story is our grandmother, Luella Barnett Coleman. Born in Boston in 1896 of mixed parentage, a Swedish mother and Negro father, she learned early on that only her family would protect her from the stings of racism. Years later, she was determined to provide a safe summer place for her five oldest grandchildren away from the hot streets of Boston, and she did it with lots of love and pride and very little money. Running elevators in Boston department stores during the fall and winter and cleaning the homes of wealthy, white summer Island residents were her means to that end.
After renting for a few years, Luella desired permanence and privacy for her family. In 1944, she purchased a cottage in Oak Bluffs, without her husband’s knowledge. It took a while, but eventually he learned of and accepted what she had done. Over the years, Luella was offered additional adjoining lots and agreed to each purchase on the condition she could, “give a nickel down and a nickel when you catch me.” By 1972 there were four houses on eight lots, and the family called it “Coleman Corners.” Today, five generations of Colemans call Coleman Corners “home,” even if they only stay for a few weeks.
This memoir, The Place My Heart Calls Home, is a collection of stories that can best be described as a journey. It spans life in Upper Roxbury, a diverse Boston neighborhood, to Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard and includes the author’s experiences leading to her stewardship of the family legacy, Coleman Corners.
It is the place her heart calls home.
Jocelyn Coleman Walton was born in Boston, Massachusetts in June 1939. She graduated from Morgan State College (now University) in 1961 and started her teaching career in the Mathematics Department of Douglass High School in Baltimore, Maryland. Jocelyn returned to Morgan and received a Masters Degree in mathematics in 1966.
In 1986, while serving as Mathematics Supervisor for Plainfield High School, in Plainfield, New Jersey, she recognized the importance of providing materials to help middle and high school students master state graduation requirements and she began co-authoring mathematics textbooks to meet that need. Jocelyn retired after serving for thirty-two years as an educator/administrator in various Maryland and New Jersey school systems.
Jocelyn has summered all but one year of her life on Martha's Vineyard, mainly on property purchased by her beloved “Granny.” Between 1944 and 1955, using monies earned at seasonal jobs, Granny purchased eight closely connected lots at one end of Myrtle Avenue in the town of Oak Bluffs, thus creating “Coleman Corners.” Jocelyn’s article “Life in the Highlands” was published in the Martha’s Vineyard Magazine in August 2016. She and her husband, Duncan, live on the Vineyard property but spend their winters in Maryland to be close to their grandchildren.