Secession Fever: Martha’s Vineyard, 1977

I’ve recently started trying to be better about staying up to date on current news, something I’ve let slip in the passed few years. I’ve been starting out slowly, mainly browsing headlines and a few stories if the title grabs my attention. As I was browsing the Huffington Post a few days ago, my attention was sucked out of my agape mouth, when I read “Secession Fever Hits Texas.” I’ve always known that Texans took pride in the fact that they, along with Vermonters, have the right to secede built into their state constitutions, but I never supposed it would be a strong enough sentiment to be labeled a “fever.”

I went on to read about other secession petitions filed with the White House by people from many states, which reminded me of a story I’d worked with while cataloging the WCVB assignment sheets. I went back through the catalog and found three separate news stories on Martha’s Vineyard’s 1977 attempt to secede.

02/17/1977 Martha's Vineyard They want to secede from the union? Shade of the Civil War, except the civil war was not about redistricting, or was it. They claim they have no representative in the legislature because of the redistricting.

03/02/1977 Vineyard Flag The folks from Martha's Vineyard says they will secede from the Union because they will soon have no representation due to redistricting. Now, they have their own flag that they displayed to their current local rep.

03/22/1977 Vineyard Secedes Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket decide that because of the new redistricting and they have no representation, they will secede from the union.

Basically it seems that there was redistricting, which lumped Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket in with part of Cape Cod, which made the residents of the islands feel like they were not being represented in the state government. They responded with local votes for secession from the Commonwealth, and some reports also say from the Union; thinking they might be the 51st state, a protectorate, or a completely independent nation.

The story made headline news nationally, and the proposed flag for their new state/nation, a white seagull in a red circle on a blue background, became a well-known image. Some of this national coverage can be accessed through another News Archive, the Vanderbilt Television News Archive, although it is not available for streaming.

While most people have forgotten this event, the Martha’s Vineyard Magazine did a 30th anniversary piece on it in 2007. They note in the story that even though the “revolution” is not remembered with plaque or in museums, it is still remembered in the everyday lives of the islanders, including their saying that they are “going to America” whenever they take a trip off-island.