Don't Silence Hillary Rayport's Voice

Maureen Searle •

(This letter was originally sent to Town Clerk Nancy Holmes)

To the editor: I am writing this letter to request that Hillary Hedges Rayport not be removed from the voter rolls for Nantucket. Hillary is a friend but, even if I did not know her, I would support the work that she is doing for the island and for its community.

Having been on the island since 1970, I know that the Nantucket families take great pride in their heritage on the island, one often going back several generations. And I also know, as a nonresident, that there has often been an ambivalent attitude toward those who were not born and raised on the island. My mother, for example, felt that she was never accepted by the Nantucket community despite being on the island since the late 1960’s. She was a voting
resident. She lived at 10 Angola for over over 40 years and died at Our Island Home in 2017. My father, Willard A. Searle, and my mother are buried in Nantucket.

I cannot get into the technicalities of being registered as a voter. That is beyond my skill level, but I do understand how committed Hillary Hedges Rayport is to preserving the character and authenticity of Nantucket. I also know her, through our Arthur Cooper project, to be a compassionate and caring person who recognizes the importance of all people in Nantucket, not simply those who are continually recognized as town leaders.

I met Hillary when I came up with the idea to have a monument to honor the memory of Arthur Cooper, a Black man who lived on Angola Street in the 1820’s and who was able to escape slavery permanently when Black neighbors and white abolitionists on the island hid him as the slave holder’s agent came to the island to arrest him. I had the idea, but without Hillary’s invaluable help and expertise, I would not have been able to realize the vision. Without Hillary Hedges Rayport, there would be no Arthur Cooper memorial in the Garden of the Sea. But, more than that, without Hillary, we would not have had a committee that included members of the Massachusetts Museum of African American History. We would not have the rock with the plaque telling Arthur Cooper’s story. We would not have had the ceremony that saw Libby Gibson, as town manager, give remarks, as well as a Black Quaker minister, and members of MAAH. I had the words for the project but Hillary, then chair of the Nantucket Historical Commission, made it happen. And she made the project inclusive, so that it had genuine and meaningful participation from members of the larger Black community.

Because I did become intimately connected with Nantucket when my mother had her stroke in 2011, I became an advocate for various causes on the island. I began to care deeply about the island community, which I knew quite well as a result of visiting my mother every day at Our Island Home for three years.

Maybe distance makes the heart grow fonder or maybe distance makes me see how desperately the island needs good leadership now as it faces an array of challenges. I write letters, but Hillary is in the trenches doing the work needed to make the island a better place for all. This also means that she is perceived as a threat by those who would preserve the power status quo, one that serves their interests. I can well understand that there are different visions for Nantucket and that many who support more radical development and commerce may see that as part of the life’s blood of the island. But Nantucket is a precious place with a
fragile ecology.

At this juncture, Nantucket needs all hands on deck. Frankly, I see town meeting as a very imperfect legislative vehicle, but it is what it is. It may not be representative of all important community interests, especially those that concern the Black and Latino members of the community, but it is the vehicle for making decisions that may affect everyone in the island.

Hillary, like the other voters, will have one vote, but, more importantly, her voice needs to be heard at town meeting. For the sake of the island and its community, voices like Hillary’s cannot be silenced by voter registration tactics. I ask when has this ever happened before? I ask what is the true motivation of those who support her removal? I will not presume to know what is best for Nantucket. But I do know that I left the island in part because I became increasingly depressed as I walked the streets of the town and saw one property after another yielding to the forces of development. My former neighbors in Mill Hill have kept up a valiant fight to preserve the character of our historic neighborhood.

In conclusion, I ask that Hillary Hedges Rayport not be removed from the voter rolls. It is not too dramatic to state that we now see the soul of the island at stake. Those fighting for the soul of the island must have their voice. They must be heard. If those like Hillary, who have proven so effective in preserving the character of the island, are denied their vote, then I do fear for Nantucket’s future.

Thank you.

Maureen Searle

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