The Land Was Ours: African American Beaches from Jim Crow to the Sunbelt South

The Land Was Ours: African American Beaches from Jim Crow to the Sunbelt South

The Land Was Ours: African American Beaches from Jim Crow to the Sunbelt South

The Land Was Ours: African American Beaches from Jim Crow to the Sunbelt South

Synopsis

The coasts of today’s American South feature luxury condominiums, resorts, and gated communities, yet just a century ago, a surprising amount of beachfront property in the Chesapeake, along the Carolina shores, and around the Gulf of Mexico was owned and populated by African Americans. Blending social and environmental history, Andrew W. Kahrl tells the story of African American–owned beaches in the twentieth century. By reconstructing African American life along the coast, Kahrl demonstrates just how important these properties were for African American communities and leisure, as well as for economic empowerment, especially during the era of the Jim Crow South. However, in the wake of the civil rights movement and amid the growing prosperity of the Sunbelt, many African Americans fell victim to effective campaigns to dispossess black landowners of their properties and beaches. Kahrl makes a signal contribution to our understanding of African American landowners and real-estate developers, as well as the development of coastal capitalism along the southern seaboard, tying the creation of overdeveloped, unsustainable coastlines to the unmaking of black communities and cultures along the shore. The result is a skillful appraisal of the ambiguous legacy of racial progress in the Sunbelt.

Excerpt

On Sunday June 28, 2009, they came back for one last dance on the beach. Except now it was the parking lot of Sam’s on the Waterfront. Some might have looked in vain for the cavernous, open-air pavilion where James Brown, Lloyd Price, Dinah Washington, Etta James, and others performed before sweat-drenched crowds. Instead they found tennis courts, boat slips, and clusters of luxurious, air-conditioned, waterfront condominiums. For the persons who passed the security gate leading to the Villages of Chesapeake Harbour that afternoon for the First Annual Carr’s Beach Historic Music Festival, there was little visual evidence to remind them of the past they had come to commemorate. Only a country road recently rededicated as “Carr’s Beach Road” bore testament to an earlier stage of coastal capitalism on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula.

But came they did, to, as George Phelps put it, “bring back my yesterday.” On this day, the persons old enough to remember Carr’s Beach shared their memories with the enthusiastic, mostly white residents of the private, gated community that emerged following the beach’s demise in the early 1970s. As they danced in the parking lot, they evoked a bygone era when, as a homeowner’s blog read, “people would pack into the pavilion to listen and dance to the music of Major R&B stars of the day, who’s [sic] voices and music could be heard throughout the area for miles.”

By the first decade of the twenty-first century, this and similar attempts to commemorate the world African Americans made under segregation proliferated and became woven into public history narratives, public policy debates over the persistence of racial inequality, and real estate redevelopment strategies both in the city and along once-rural, now-exurban shorelines. And they came to hold a mirror on an America striving to become postracial and color-blind. Magnified is the heroism and creativity that emerged from black spaces and institutions on the “colored” side of . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.