Historically African American Beaches; Vanished Relics of an Uncomfortable Past

The shorelines are indistinguishable from ones adjacent. They’re stretches of sand lapped by the Chesapeake Bay’s waves, full of life and memory, ceding ground as the sea level rises. These beaches are small slivers of the Bay’s 11,684 miles of waterfront. They always were, even when a segregated society set them apart and deemed them a couple of the only spots African Americans were able to enjoy all the recreation the Bay had to offer.

In the course of my search for disappearing history, I’ve happened upon a few spots that were once beaches reserved for African Americans. After World War II, Henry’s Beach in Somerset County, Maryland and Seaview Beach in Virginia Beach, Virginia were centers of African American community and culture. Notable performers entertained guests at these day resorts. Beach goers packed the floor of Seaview’s dance hall to the likes of Duke Ellington. Day trippers cheered on African American baseball teams that came to play on the fields at Henry’s Beach.

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Two views of present-day Seaview Beach

Even though these were places that many Americans found entertainment, solace, good company, however, they nevertheless existed because some folks deemed others second class citizens. African Americans were not welcome at nearby beaches. Henry’s Beach was the only beach of its kind in all of Maryland.

That may explain why these beaches’ traces are gone and widespread recognition of them is all but nonexistent. A handful of old timers and historians can tell you what splendid resorts these once were, of the thrilling amusement park at Seaview Beach, for example, or the pleasant breezes and soft sand at Henry’s Beach. Still, many people were all too eager, with good cause, to abandon them as relics of a segregated past that they’d just as soon forget.

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The condos that replaced Seaview’s amusement park and dance hall

Henry’s Beach is now well-kept private property, and the only reminder of the three decades of entertainment that thousands of people enjoyed there is an historical marker a mile away. Seaview Beach isn’t even that lucky; the resort closed in 1964 after a twenty-year run and developers razed the dance hall there. High-rise condos and a parking lot now occupy the spot Billie Holiday once poured her soul onto Seaview’s stage.

Other historically African American beaches, such as Bayshore, which was beside Buckroe Beach in Hampton, have continued on as popular waterfront, and people of all types and stripes now share good times there, but the memories, the significance of what these places once were has been given back to the Bay, to the ages.

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Henrys1

Top: Two views of the private property that was once Henry’s Beach. The red-roofed structure housed a restaurant and changing rooms.

Bottom: Henry’s Beach’s historical marker, Somerset United Methodist Church in the background

About Ben Swenson

Ben lives in Williamsburg, Virginia. He is writing a book on places of historic value that have been forgotten and are being reclaimed by nature. Abandoned Country is a companion blog to that project. You can contact him at benswenson@cox.net
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16 Responses to Historically African American Beaches; Vanished Relics of an Uncomfortable Past

  1. Dr J. Calvin Downing says:

    I simply want to point out the error of this statement: “Other historically African American beaches, such as nearby Buckroe Beach in Hampton, have continued on as popular waterfront, and people of all types and stripes now share good times there, but the memories, the significance of what these places once were has been given back to the Bay, to the ages.” The fact is Buckroe Beach was never an African American Beach. I grew up in the Newport News-Hampton area and we could not go to segregated Buckroe Beach. It was WHITE ONLY. Our (African American) beach was Bayshore which was next door to Buckroe but separated by a fence which ran across the sand and for a considerable distance out into the water

  2. Michael C. Miller says:

    Not enough information, I’m from Washington DC and growing up in DC in the 1950’s heard much about Bayshore Beach and the few beaches in Maryland. My family has property in Long view Beach, Maryland since the 1940’s. What I’m trying to say there is not enough information in reference to Historical Black Beaches across American which have disappeared since the 1970’s.

    Finally, the information is outstanding.

  3. Joyce says:

    I have a ticket that they used to get into the beach

  4. Joyce Sova says:

    I grew up on Bayville Farms which isn’t very far from Seaview Beach. I remember when Seaview Beach was in full swing.

    • Titanya Gaynor says:

      It is unfortunate that Black people whom are not all from Africa( because most of us who were enslaved was already here) had to go through this. After we accepted that we were not accepted we went ahead and made it our own and thrived. What makes me angry is after we made it thrive it was taken away, just like everything else.

      • Carli says:

        I’m from the area and many people from other states bought land, built homes and retired there. The locals either weren’t paying attention, didn’t care and/or didn’t have the money because some of the homes were astronomical, which the homeowners will never recoup their investment. Living near the water was their only focus. Some places are so far from the nearest grocery store that they must shop once or twice a month!

  5. Dee says:

    my question is what was the nearest town to Henry’s Beach ? Onli info given is sommerset county – I’m not from Maryland , and current maps don’t show the actual location

  6. George Diaz says:

    Has anyone ever heard of Wellington Beach in Charles County Maryland on the Potomac River? My father sold lots there in the ’60s.

  7. Ralph Bullock says:

    I remember going to Seaview Beach as a child in the late 50’s early 60’s. Blacks in the area had another beach in Norfolk called City Beach that we used to go to. I have fond memories of going to that beach with my family as a child also. It was eventually closed and now have an upscale housing development built there.

  8. Tia Hall says:

    My Aunt Carrie Brown had a Beach House at Long View Beach for many years. She passed away today. And I wish I had access to more history about it. I remember when it was all Black. With a club house that I could bike to and safe because it was al Black and we took care of one another.

  9. Smiles says:

    I remember SeaView beach as a child (Caucasian). We were just a block over. The amusement rides were stored over at Clydes market for years.
    I grew up on this beach in the 60’s and the historically black beach area changed over.
    We were kids and knew no difference and all played together. Then the dealing started for SeaGate and other beach condos.
    I grew up and moved and by the early 70’s there was nothing left of the old buildings and rides. Then Clydes market burned and that entire area changed forever.

  10. This is a sad day for me. My Uncle Arnold used to take me to Henry’s Beach to play in the water, play baseball, and to collect sea shells, star fish, sand shark shells, and drift wood.

    He would also take pictures and paint. I have such fond memories of that place. It’s heart breaking to know, that it will never be the same again. Dames Quarter native born, and raised.

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