Historic beaches opened for Black Americans during Jim Crow

 

Lincoln Beach near New Orleans – Source: theguardian.com

Back in November of 2019, I posted a list of the beach wade-in protests that took place during the Civil Rights Era. These protests demanded that public beaches be opened up to all people, instead of being limited to just whites.

As a follow-up to that prior post, the list provided below identifies beaches that were established for use by African-Americans during American’s shameful Jim Crow segregation period. As will become evident, these beaches were separate, but not always equal. The National Park Service notes the following on one of its websites:

“In areas were African Americans were allowed to access public beaches, most were in very remote, polluted, and hazardous areas.” SOURCE: nps.gov

Furthermore, a number of the public beaches set aside for African-Americans were quite small in size given the population they were meant to serve. In addition, it sometimes took lawsuits and court action just to have one established or maintained. Sadly, a number of African-American beaches, once established, were given derogatory nicknames such as “Chicken Bone” and “Inkwell.” These unfortunate names are included solely for historical context.

Meanwhile, there were also some privately owned beach properties that were acquired by black leaders and business entrepreneurs for the enjoyment of African-American citizens. These places, and whenever possible the visionary leaders, will be identified in the post.

Seaview Beach, Virginia advertisement – Source: forestparkhighlands.com

Regardless of whether the beaches were public or private, Black Americans faced far too many discriminatory restrictions, whether on a daily basis or just to enjoy a summer afternoon at the shore.

This post is not meant to identify each and every beach, but to recognize the historical importance of key ones around the country, as well as to celebrate those visionaries who worked so hard to overcome discrimination. That being said, any additions, suggestions, or corrections to the list are most welcome.

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American Beach, Amelia Island, Jacksonville, Florida

Source: medium.com

  • Founded in 1935 by Abraham Lincoln Lewis, who was Florida’s first black millionaire
  • Damaged by Hurricane Dora in 1964
  • Located on the Florida Black Heritage Trail
  • Listed as endangered by National Association for African-American Heritage Preservation

Abraham Lincoln Lewis – Source: theclio.com

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Atlantic Beach, South Carolina

Source: townofatlaticbeachsc.com

  • Established in 1934 and nicknamed “The Black Pearl”
  • Founded by George W. Tyson
  • Became the nucleus for the Town of Atlantic Beach, established in 1966
  • One of just a few African-American beach communities in the USA

Source: medium.com

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Bethune-Volusia Beach, New Smyrna Beach, Florida

Source: tripadvisor.com

  • Established in 1945 as a beach open to all races
  • Named after Dr. Mary McCleod Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman University, who was one of the purchasers of the beach property
  • First beach opened for African-Americans in the Daytona Beach area during segregation, even though two of the founders of Daytona Beach were black
  • Located on the Florida Black Heritage Trail

Dr. Bethune – Source: thoughtco.com

Source: waymarking.com

________

Bruce’s Beach, Manhattan Beach, California

  • A mere two blocks wide
  • Visitors were often harassed by racists.
  • The city seized the beach by eminent domain and closed it.
  • The beach only reopened to Black Americans in 1927 after the NAACP sued.

Source: southbay.goldenstate.is

________

Buckroe Beach (Bay Shore Beach), Hampton, Virginia

Hotel and beach – Source: hampton.gov

  • Established by administrators of Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in 1890
  • Named later changed to Bay Shore Beach & Resort to differentiate it from adjacent white-only Buckroe Beach Amusement Park
  • By 1925, the site included a 70-room hotel, pavilion, amusement park, and boardwalk.
  • Notable performers who played here include Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and James Brown. Though illegal at the time, white fans climbed the fence to see performances too.
  • After integration, vacationers tended towards Virginia Beach and Busch Gardens in Williamsburg.
  • Closed in 1973
  • Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010

Another view of the hotel and beach – Source: pinterest.com

Source: hmdb.com

_______

Bunche Beach, Fort Myers, Florida

Historic signage at Bunche Beach – Source: blogfinger.net

  • Established in 1949 as the only beach in the Fort Myers area for African-Americans during segregation
  • Named for civil rights leader Ralph Bunche
  • Now part of the Bunche Beach Preserve

Ralph Bunche – Source: blogfinger.net

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Butler Beach, Anastasia Island, St. Augustine, Florida

Source: actionnewsjax.com

  • Established by local real estate businessman, Frank B. Butler in 1927
  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his staff stayed at a hotel on the beach in June of 1964 during racial tensions in St. Augustine. An attempt was made on his life while staying there, but thankfully he was away from his room at the time (see photo below).
  • Included as part of the ACCORD Freedom Trail Tour and the Florida Black Heritage Trail

Source: civilrights.flagler.edu

Frank B. Butler – Source: http://www.novanumismatics.com

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Carr’s Beach, Annapolis, Maryland

Source: carrsbeach.com

  • Nicknamed “The Beach” and opened in 1926
  • Private beach operated by Elizabeth Carr Smith – sister of Mary Florence Carr Sparrow (see Sparrow’s Beach)
  • Property was originally owned by their parents and former slaves, Frederick Carr and Mary Wells Carr
  • During the week, day camp and church picnics took place at the beach.

Source: concerts.fandom.com

  • On weekends, particularly Sunday afternoons, Carr’s Beach was a major stop for African American musicians.
  • Superstar performers included Lionel Hampton, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Etta James, Little Richard, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Otis Redding, The Coasters, The Drifters, and The Temptations
  • On July 21, 1956, an estimated 70,000 people tried to see Chuck Berry perform, though the site reached capacity at 8,000.
  • The last major concert at Carr’s Beach took place in 1962, when 11,000 came to hear James Brown.
  • Whites were also welcome to attend:

“If you loved music, you came to Carr’s. Color didn’t matter. It was a safe and welcoming environment.”

Source: pressreader.com

  • Sadly, Carr’s Beach no longer exists except in the collective memories of those who enjoyed being there. The site is now occupied by expensive homes.

Map showing both Carr’s and Sparrow’s Beach Source: mytopo.com

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Chicken Bone Beach, Atlantic City, New Jersey

Sammy Davis, Jr. (center-left) and friends at the beach – Source: blackpast.org

  • Established in 1928 after white tourists complained about blacks using the city beaches, despite the fact that they had been open to all people, regardless of race for almost 80 years
  • Two-blocks wide between Mississippi and Missouri Avenues
  • Local residents gave the beach its troubling name in the 1950s, presumably based on the number of chicken bones left behind from picnics when the beach was being cleaned. Eventually, the black community decided to “make lemonade out of lemons” with the name.
  • Well-known as a place for family gatherings and for concerts by musicians such as Sammy Davis, Jr, the Mills Brothers, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, and the Club Harlem showgirls
  • Chicken Bone Beach Historical Foundation was established in the 1990s in an effort to use Jazz as a vehicle for overcoming the troubling history of segregation.
  • Tuition-free Jazz camps are held for youth during the summer as well as free weekly Jazz concerts in August.

Historic marker at the beach entrance – Source: atlasobscura.com

________

City Beach, Norfolk, Virginia

Source: twitter.com

  • Black residents had been banned from all city beaches in the early 1900s, even though they accounted for one-third of Norfolk’s population.
  • In the 1920s, African-Americans fought for a beach of their own at city meetings and through the courts.
  • On June 16, 1935, Norfolk opened City Beach, located outside the city limits on 11 acres.
  • Today, the beach is known as East Beach of Ocean View

_______

Eastside Beach at Sandy Point State Park, Annapolis, Maryland

  • Eastside Beach was open to African-Americans, while Southside Beach was for whites.
  • The separate bathrooms and other facilities were not as well-maintained at Eastside compared to Southside. This led to a lawsuit by the NAACP in 1952.

_______

Highland Beach, Annapolis, Maryland

  • This beach was founded and opened by Charles Remond Douglass, son of Frederick Douglass.
  • Now part of a residential community of the same name

Charles Remond Douglass – Source: douglashistory.co.uk

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Idlewild Lake Beach – Idlewild, Lake County, Michigan

On the beach at Idlewild – Source: interactive.wttw.com

Photo by author

  • Established in 1912 as a rural retreat for African-Americans
  • Nicknamed “the Midwest’s Black Eden”
  • Thousands of African-American vacationers from cities across the Midwest came here for recreation, entertainment, and fun.
  • Developed as a vacation and retirement community
  • Several nearby clubs [Flamingo (1955), Idlewild, and Paradise] entertained visitors with top-notch entertainers like The Four Tops, B.B. King, Cab Calloway, Etta James, Sarah Vaughn, Sammy Davis, Jr., Aretha Franklin, The Spinners, and Della Reese.
  • Property owners included Madame C.J. Walker and Dr. W.E.B. DuBois
  • Interest waned after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, though a smaller year-round resident and seasonal population still enjoy what Idlewild has to offer.
  • The Idlewild Historic & Cultural Center helps preserve the history of resort.

Recent view of the beach – Source: historicidlewild.org

Photo by author

_______

Inkwell Beach, San Monica, California

Source: southla.wordpress.com

  • Needless to so say the name of the beach is inappropriate; and sadly, it tended to be used whenever a beach in the region was opened to African-Americans.
  • Only one-block wide between Bay and Bicknell Streets

Couples at Inkwell Beach – Source: http://www.arcgis.com

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Inkwell “The Inkwell” Beach, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

Views of the beach, then and now – Source: narratively.com

  • Founded in the 1890s and locally known as “The Inkwell”
  • As noted under the listing for Inkwell Beach in Santa Monica, the term “inkwell” is considered to be odious, but local black residents are reclaiming the name as a way of honoring their ancestors and celebrating the positive aspects of the beach.
  • Officially, it is called “Town Beach” today, but local artist Michael Johnson has been posting historic signs that reflect the important African-American heritage of the beach (see photo below). Unfortunately, some town’s officials have been opposed to allowing the signs to remain. A link to an online petition is here.
  • The Oak Bluffs Polar Bears (an African-American organization) have held daily summer morning swim events on the beach for more than 75 years (see photo below).

Michael Johnson – Source: mvtimes.com

Oak Bluff Polar Bears in the water – Source: facebook.com

_______

Lincoln Beach, Lake Pontchartrain, New Orleans, Louisiana

Swimming class at Lincoln Beach – Source: 64parishses.org

  • Located 14 miles from downtown and the black neighborhoods of the time
  • Situated next to an Industrial Canal
  • Nearly inaccessible by public transit and required crossing an active rail line to access
  • Referred to as a “reptile-infested” part of the lake by the local Urban League
  • Rock jetties on either side were used to “contain” beachgoers.
  • Improvements were finally added to the beach in the 1950s.
  • Musicians such as Fats Domino, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, the Neville Brothers, and other artists performed here.
  • Lincoln Beach closed in 1964 and has been decaying from neglect since then.

Miss Lincoln Beach with Nat King Cole – Source: old-new-orleans.com

Bathhouse at Lincoln Beach – Source: old-new-orleans.com

________

Little Bay Beach, Norfolk, Virginia

  • Opened sometime around 1916 by African-American businessman, Lemuel W. Bright
  • The only beach available for African-Americans in the Hampton Roads area for nearly 20 years.
  • Included a boardwalk and dance hall, as well as amusements such as a merry-go-round, bowling alley, and shooting galleries
  • The dance hall burned down in 1929 and was prohibited from being rebuilt due to opposition from neighboring white residents.

_______

Mosquito Beach, James Island, Charleston, South Carolina

Source: historicmosquitobeach.com

  • Became a tourist/recreational destination in 1940
  • Nicknamed “The Black Beach”
  • Formerly part of a plantation and the site of a oyster factory
  • Location next to the bug-infested marshy areas led to the name Mosquito Beach
  • While its popularity declined after passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, several venues remain at the beach.
  • Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2020

________

Pacific Beach Club, Huntington Beach, California

  • Construction began in 1925 and was scheduled to open on Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12, 1926
  • Contractors would walk away from the job during construction
  • Access across the rail line was hindered until an appeal was filed with the state
  • Permits and utilities were slow to be granted or denied altogether
  • Never opened as arsonists burned down the Pacific Beach Club just two weeks prior to its planned opening. No one was ever charged and the facility was never rebuilt.

Planned Pacific Beach Club – Source: http://www.arcgis.com

________

Riverside Beach Park – Mount Pleasant, South Carolina

Source: hmdb.com

  • Developed and opened by the Cooper River Bridge Company in 1930 and sold to the Charleston County in 1941
  • First public beach in the Charleston area for African-Americans
  • Included a dance pavilion, boardwalk, bathhouse, playground, motel (1943-1975), club, and ballfields
  • Superstar musicians who performed here included Count Basie, B.B. King, Louis Armstrong, Ivory Joe Hunter, James Brown, and Duke Ellington.
  • Sadly, Charleston County sold the park/beach to developers in 1975. The buildings were demolished in 1993.

_______

Rosamond Johnson Beach, Perdido Key, Gulf Islands National Seashore, Florida

Photo of Rosamond Johnson, Jr. at beach named for him – Source: visitpensacola.com

  • One of few beaches in greater Pensacola area that was open to African-Americans during segregation.
  • Named for Rosamond Johnson, Jr., who was the first soldier from Escambia County to be killed in the Korean War. After saving two wounded soldiers, he died at the age of 17 while trying to save a third.
  • Leased by the Sunset Riding Club for use by African-Americans after the Korean War. The lease was terminated in 1956.
  • Located on the Florida Black Heritage Trail
  • Became part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore in 1973
  • Historic marker and monument honoring Johnson’s bravery was added in 1996

Source: flolidahikes.com

________

St. Andrews Beach, Jekyll Island, Georgia

Visiting St. Andrews Beach – Source: jekyllisland.com

Dolphin Motor Hotel – Source: jekyllisland.com

  • Established by the state of Georgia in 1950 as the only public beach on Georgia’s coastline that was open to African-Americans prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • A beach bathhouse was added in 1955.
  • The Dolphin Club and Motor Hotel was built here for vacationers and musicians.
  • Percy Sledge, Otis Redding, B.B. King, and Millie Jackson are among the musicians to have performed at the club.
  • South Beach Auditorium was opened in 1960.

Beach bath house – Source: jekyllisland.com

St. Andrews Beach historic marker – hmdb.com

_______

Seabrook Beach, Lake Pontchartrain, New Orleans, Louisiana

  • No lighting, lifeguards, or concession provided by the city. Efforts by concessionaires were regularly rebuked for several years in the 1920s.
  • Differences between Seabrook and nearby whites-only Pontchartrain Beach were significant.
  • Routinely closed by the levee operating board at the start of each summer until threatened with lawsuits.
  • Shoreline was allowed to erode here and sinkholes developed making swimming dangerous
  • Use of Seabrook Beach was banned in 1943 and moved to Lincoln Beach (see that listing)

________

Seaview Beach, Virginia Beach, Virginia

Seaview Beach then and now – Source: seaviewbeach.wordpress.com

  • Opened May 30, 1945
  • Eventually included an amusement park, bath house, and 40-room hotel
  • Funded by 21 African-American businessmen
  • Performers included Fats Domino, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong
  • The amusement park closed in 1965, was demolished in 1966, and is now the site of condominiums (see photos above).

________

Sparrow’s Beach, Annapolis, Maryland

Mary Florence Carr Sparrow – Source: sparrowsbeach.com

  • Private beach owned for more than 40 years by Mary Florence Carr Sparrow, sister of Elizabeth Carr Smith (see Carr’s Beach)
  • Opened in 1926
  • Property was originally owned by their parents and former slaves, Frederick Carr and Mary Wells Carr
  • Activities included swimming, amusement rides, boat rides, beauty pageants, food stands, lodging, entertainment, picnics, reunions, and church events.
  • Sadly, Carr’s Beach no longer exists except in the collective memories of those who enjoyed being there. The site is occupied by expensive homes.

Ferris wheel at Sparrow’s Beach – Source: sparrowsbeach.com

Beachgoers at Sparrow’s Beach – Source: sparrowsbeach.com

_________

Virginia Key Beach, Miami, Florida

Beachgoers at Virginia Key – Source: virginiakeybeachpark.net

  • Established by Dade County after a Wade-in Protest at Haulover Beach in 1945 as the first African-American beach in the Miami area.
  • A sewage treatment plant was built on the key in the 1950s – treated sludge was discharged into waters near the beach.
  • Beach and park closed during the 1980s but reopened in 2008 with the help of the Virginia Key Park Beach Trust
  • Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002

Source: hmdb.com

_________

31st Street Beach, Chicago, Illinois

  • A young black boy named Eugene Williams accidentally floated across an invisible segregation line established between this beach and an adjacent whites-only one in 1919.  His drowning death after being hit by rocks thrown at him by whites led to the Chicago Red Summer Riots of 1919.
  • Since 2015, the beach has been officially known as Margaret T. Burroughs Beach.

Beach in 1931 -Source: encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org

__________

Other beaches for which more information is needed:

  • Brown’s Beach, Galveston, Texas
  • Frasier Beach, Charleston, South Carolina
  • Jupiter Beach, Florida

SOURCES:

This entry was posted in Advocacy, cities, civics, Civil Rights, civility, culture, demographics, diversity, entertainment, entrepreneurship, geography, health, historic preservation, history, human rights, inclusiveness, injustice, land use, Maps, pictures, placemaking, racism, recreation, Small business, social equity, third places, tourism, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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