Header Ads

Black beaches that broke barriers: From Obama's favorite resort town to land cultivated by Frederick Douglass's son, the African American owned vacation spots that made history (42 Pics)

Highland Beach, Maryland
Highland Beach was the first African American owned and established beach resort town in the United States. The small section of the Annapolis, Maryland coast has prided itself on catering to elite African American families throughout history - illustrated by this photo of a YWCA camp for girls hosted at the beach in 1930

Charles Douglass, the youngest son of abolitionist and activist Frederick Douglass, was an infantry veteran of the Civil War and long-time employee of the Treasury Department. He and his wife were turned away from a restaurant in the Chesapeake Bay because of their race - so he decided to purchase the plot of land directly next door. He turned the 40 acres into Highland Beach, and bought the space for just $5,000 in 1893 - the equivalent of about $130,000 today

As time went on, Highland Beach increased in popularity and hosted some of the most prominent African American men and women and their families, and continues to do so today. After establishing itself as its own municipality in Maryland, the area has maintained much of the culture it was built upon more than 100 years ago 

Beginning in the late 19th century, African American beaches were established along the eastern coast of the United States. Due to post-Reconstruction and later Jim Crow era racism, black Americans were not welcome at many of the leisure spots frequented by white citizens 

Many who live full-time on Highland Beach are the direct descendants of original settlers of the town, who found refuge and relaxation during the tense era following the Civil War - circa the time this photo was taken in the late 19th century

Choosing not to permit commercial properties in the town, it remains entirely residential. Covering under a mile of land, it hosts about 60 homes and a total of just over 100 people

Charles even built a house for his father on the land, which he called Twin Oaks – but Frederick unfortunately passed away before he saw it completed. It is now home to the Frederick Douglass Museum and Cultural Center.

Carr's and Sparrow's Beaches, Maryland
Carr's and Sparrow's beaches were owned by two sisters, Elizabeth Carr Smith and Florence Carr Sparrow, just a few miles away from Highland Beach in Annapolis. In contrast, these beaches were home to wild musical performances attended by the most influential artists of the time such as Hoppy Adams - as women pose next to his car in 1956

The two sprung up in a more animated time in our nation’s history – though one still marred by racial prejudices, which created the need for black-only beaches. A family of six poses beach-ready in this undated photo 

The land was inherited by the sisters whose family first purchased the 180 acres as farmland in 1902. The sisters founded Carr’s Beach and Sparrow's Beach in 1931 – which operated as separate entities but were side-by-side and run by the two women. The space was much more commercial and publicly attended by African Americans of all classes - as children were taught to swim, adults looked on from the nearby bar and teens danced the night away during weekly performances 

The Sunday evening WANN broadcast became a staple in the community and drew the most popular soul, R&B, jazz, and rock'n'roll artists of the time. Hoppy Adams, pictured here in 1956, took the stage on numerous occasions 

 Carr's Beach established itself as a venue on the Chitlin' Circuit, a collection of venues along the East Coast that catered to African American artists and audiences. Hoppy Adams' performance took place in July 1956

The Chitlin’ Circuit operated at the height of the Jim Crow era, which saw the implementation of oppressive segregation laws in the American South

Notable jazz musicians performed each Sunday including Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. As the genre of rock’n’roll began to emerge, early pioneers such as Fats Domino and Buddy Holly made stops at the famous spot

Although big name artists frequently took the stage, they allowed some younger performers to debut their talent as well. 'The Teenagers' performed in August 1956 during a WANN broadcast at Carr's Beach

Due to its heightened popularity, most who frequented Carr's simply referred to it as 'The Beach'. Jazz singer Sarah Vaughan touted her pipes at another August 1956 broadcast 

As the Civil Rights movement picked up steam in the 1960s, as did the music and culture the African American communities at Carr’s Beach held dear

Despite being strongly African American in its foundation, the beach later became known for drawing an interracial crowd, and the burgeoning music influence served as an equalizing factor among blacks and white

The beach side performances grew to be staples in the soul and rhythm and blues genres, prompting raucous dance competitions among visitors who came as far as Pennsylvania and New York to party at Carr’s - such as here in 1956

Little Richard, Etta James, and Aretha Franklin also made appearances throughout the Carr's Beach summers - teens dance on the beach in this unddated photo

'Wild' Bill Doggett, who wrote the song 'Honky Tonk', played a rousing performance surrounded by his band and photos of other famous black musicians 

Sparrow's beach, owned by the same family as Carr's beach, held an annual beauty pageant for black female contestants

When segregation of races was made illegal by the Supreme Court in 1954, African Americans who were once loyal to Carr’s beach out of necessity wanted to visit other beaches they were once prohibited from enjoying 

Today, Carr’s beach itself no longer exists. In its place sits a luxury condominium resort – the legacy of the good times once had dancing on the shore remaining as memories, shown in a family scrapbook in this undated photo

Atlantic Beach, South Carolina

Atlantic Beach lies on the coast of South Carolina, known for its many Sea Islands which hold a rich history of African American culture 

Also known as 'The Black Pearl,' it was first founded in the 1930s for the same reason as Carr's and Sparrow's beaches – a safe place for black community members to swim, fish and dance in the sand without the threat of prejudice

Like Highland Beach, Atlantic Beach became its own municipality in 1966, making it one of the few African American owned and governed beach communities in America. The town celebrated its 50th anniversary last year

In an effort to preserve the African American culture at Atlantic Beach, they've hosted a number of festivals including Afro Fest, the first one held in 1990

The first foundation of Atlantic Beach and surrounding Sea Islands was by the Gullah-Geechee people, descendants of slaves who were brought to the United States from West Africa centuries ago. A photo project in 2016 documented the way the community still lives 

The Gullah-Geechees still live in pockets throughout the coast of the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida, where they practice a unique culture, speak their own language, and live life connected to their indigenous roots

After the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the Gullah-Geechee people took over the lands of their former masters and made them their own

In an effort to revitalize visitation to Atlantic Beach, which also experienced a decline after Jim Crow was outlawed, city officials instituted the Gullah-Geechee Festival, which takes place every August and draws scores of visitors interested in the community’s history

Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard - Massachusetts 

African American residence in Martha’s Vineyard began in the Oak Bluffs neighborhood at a small inn called Shearer Cottage, which was established in 1912

It was founded by a former slave, Charles Shearer, who saw a business opportunity when he realized that black residents in Martha’s Vineyard weren’t allowed to rent homes there during segregation.  Residents are seen boarding a docked paddlewheeler boat in 1910 on the Oak Bluffs dock 

Last year, Charles Shearer’s work and community were featured in the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Visitors of all races attend the beach this July 

More recently, Oak Bluffs made headlines with another of its frequent visitors: former President Barack Obama and his family

With First Lady Michelle, Malia and Sasha in tow, the four were seen often during his presidency vacationing in the area. President Obama was often seen at the Farm Neck Golf Club teeing up a few holes, and occasionally the family would visit a local food joint, Nancy’s
Sag Harbor, New York

Sag Harbor and the neighboring beaches of Ninevah and Azurest were the first African American developments in the Hamptons, which now carry the reputation of glitz and glamour on Long Island in New York

Today, beachfront properties in the quiet, affluent neighborhood have soared to tens of millions of dollars and house some of the nation’s wealthiest African American residents

Though many of the homeowners in Sag Harbor are still African-American, gentrification has threatened the area – as it has with many historically black neighborhoods in New York City. This home above in Sag Harbor costs $65million 

Many longtime residents of the community feel they are being pushed out by extremely wealthy investors and developers moving in on the once affordable properties. This remodeled home comes with a price tag of $55 million 

No comments