We need more of these today!
The summertime is the perfect season for a summer vacation, with families around the country flocking to their nearest beaches, mountains, and resorts. Unfortunately, there was a time when Black people were left out of these places, blocked from enjoying the luxury and fun that comes with resort communities by the ubiquitous racism of the time. As a result, some wealthy Blacks came together to build their own resort properties, using the land as an inclusive and welcoming space for Black vacationers all over. These historic Black-owned communities became a safe haven, offering rest and connection for Black families.
As years have passed, racist land grabs, state-sanctioned robbery, and the looming effects of integration have taken some of the best of these Black resort areas but we are committed to remembering the forgotten sands and ensuring the stories of Black ownership are told in perpetuity. Here are 7 historic Black resorts and beaches everyone should know about.
Peg Leg Bates Resort | Upstate New York
Founded by famous dancer Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates, the Peg Leg Bates Country Club opened in the 1960s in Kerhonkson, New York, TheClio.com reports. Bates was an international sensation, performing across the country with one leg, the other lost in a childhood accident. He traveled with the likes of Jimmy Dorsey, Cab Calloway, and Duke Ellington, making a name for himself and fashioning his resort after a white-owned one in the Catskills where he once performed but wasn’t allowed to stay. He had a predominantly Black clientele situated in an area that catered mostly to wealthy white Jewish families. At its height, Peg Leg Bates Resort was the largest in the nation with 70 rental units, a nightclub, a swimming pool, and a roller disco rink. The resort closed in 1989 after Bates’ retirement.
The Inkwell | Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard, MA
According to Tripadvisor, early settlers to Martha’s Vineyard during the 1600s were indentured slaves and by the 1800s, the area brought those seeking employment in the whaling industry. By the 1900s, Martha’s Vineyard was a refuge for Black people looking for a place to vacation and connect with other people who looked like them. The Inkwell gained in popularity during the Harlem Renaissance, the small stretch of beach welcoming Black travelers from everywhere. Today, the island continues to host Black middle-class families and is a popular vacation spot among celebrities like Spike Lee and the Obamas.
Cover photo: Forgotten Sands: 7 historic Black resorts and beaches everyone should know about/The Inkwell, Oak Bluffs circa 1973/Photo Courtesy of Donald C. Preston/Boston Globe
Greenwood Forest Farms | New York
New York’s first African American resort community was created out of necessity like many of the others across the country, Record Online reports. Greenwood Lake had a plethora of shoreline hotels for wealthy Manhattan socialites to visit but none of them would allow African Americans on their property. So a group of Black real-estate moguls came together to create the Sterling Forest Farms corporation, purchasing 143 acres which came to be known as Greenwood Forest Farms or “The Colony.”
A thriving resort for Black luminaries like Langston Hughes, the community featured entertainment, a restaurant, a bar, and tennis courts. The 1950s brought with it a nursery school for children and many have memories of swimming, boating, and fishing in the lake. The land was sold to developers in the 1970s and in 2007, the Greenwood Forest Farms Association Inc was created to preserve the legacy of the original community.
Highland Beach | MD
Major Charles Douglass, the youngest son of Frederick Douglass and his wife were turned away from a restaurant at the Bay Ridge Resort and Amusement Park in 1892, prompting a chance of a life opportunity, Highland Beach MD reports. Turns out, the resort was separated narrowly by Black Walnut Creek, from property owned by a Black family named the Brashears. The Douglass’ encountered the Brashears that day, working together over the next few months to purchase land from the Brashears 48 acres and with the financial support of his father, twenty-six and two-thirds of those acres became HIghland Beach.
By 1894, Douglass built his first cottage and created a retreat on the Chesapeake Bay. 600 feet of beachfront was designated as a summer enclave for family and friends and while Fredercik Douglass passed away in 1895 before his summer home built by his son was completed, the legacy continued. The Town of Highland Beach birthed a community of well-educated Black families including Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and later Alex Haley. In 1922, Highland Beach was incorporated, becoming the first African American municipality in Maryland and what is believed to be the first Black summer resort in the U.S. Many of the homes today are still owned by descendants of the original community and Highland Beach is the home of Twin Oaks, which houses the Frederick Douglass Museum and Cultural Center, inc.
Val Verde | California
Once known as the Black Palm Springs, Val Verde was a year-round playground during the 1930s and ‘40s, LAist reports. During the 1920s, Black families were not allowed to own land or participate in recreation anywhere else, Val Verde becoming a safe haven for Black and brown communities. Located in the Santa Clarita Valley, the town was first marketed as “Eureka Villa,” becoming a popular hot spot for film stars like Hattie McDaniels. Like many other Black resorts and beach areas, integration meant people could go elsewhere without restriction, and Val Verde saw an influx of Spanish-speaking families with most of the Black history and legacy becoming lost.
Lincoln Hills Country Club | Colorado
Colorado has always been a huge destination spot for families looking to enjoy the quiet of nature in the mountains. However, during the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan ran supreme in Denver, terrorizing Black families with impunity, the Denver Public Library reports. In 1922, developers Edwin Regnier and Robert Ewalt decided to sell mountain property to African Americans, offering plots of land to Blacks all over the state for down payments as low as $5.00. The plots were priced at $50 - $100.
Lincoln Hills, located about 40 miles west of Denver, became the largest resort west of the Mississippi for African Americans. Memoirs recall nighttime campfires and a mountain camp for Black girls. Marketed as the “greatest summer recreation park in America,” The Great Depression forced many to sell their land and by the time integration began, Black families had their share of resorts to attend, eventually leading to the decline of Lincoln Hills.
Hains Point | Washington, DC
Hains Point, also known as East Potomac Park, was first created in the 1890s when U.S. Army Corps engineers sought a solution to sewage and shipping issues, The Washington Post reports. The man-made island overlooking the Tidal Basin was then declared a recreational park in 1897 by Congress, a popular area for golf, tennis, and swimming. However, up until 1949, Black families were only allowed to picnic, forbidden from playing in the segregated golf, tennis, and swimming facilities. Boasting four nine-hole golf courses, more than 10,000 people descended on the park each summer and it was one of the cheapest courses in the area. Langston golf course was built specifically in 1934 as an integrated golf course, closing in 1982. Despite the closing of many of its recreational facilities, Hains Point has continued to be a safe haven for Black families seeking scenic picnic grounds outdoors.
Happy vacationing folks!
Cover photo: Forgotten Sands: 7 historic Black resorts and beaches everyone should know about/Scurlock Studio Records/Archives Center/National Museum of American History/Smithsonian Institution