Remembering the Happy Times of Segregation?

Remembering the Happy Times of Segregation?

For all the hardships and humiliations of the Jim Crow era, a Baltimore teacher’s historical discovery reminds us that the Black community could find enjoyment in the face of oppression.

Published October 18, 2011

(Photo: Courtesy Helen Savoy Mays/

It’s easy and often right to remember the horrors of American history. If you’re a Black American of a certain age right now, it’s very possible that your parents remember a time when they couldn’t be in certain towns at sundown, or eat at the same restaurants as white people. Some probably even remember facing physical attacks or death threats over the fact that they were Black. Indeed, until very recently — and even today, in many places — it often wasn’t safe to be an African-American in the United States, and those memories naturally haunt us. That being said, sometimes, while dwelling on the horrors of the past, we can forget there were good times as well.


Decades ago, when the summers got hot in Washington, D.C., and Maryland, Black families looking to vacation were faced with a problem: Travel to Ocean City, Maryland, which was segregated and thus difficult to traverse, or find another beach to enjoy. Many Blacks chose the second option, which is how Carr’s Beach, a sandy spot near Annapolis, came to prominence in the Black community.


Though the story of how Carr’s Beach came to be — via bigotry — is sad, the joy families ended up having there was real, and worth remembering as well. Which is what Caldwell McMillan, a teacher in Baltimore, had in mind when he found footage from Carr’s on eBay. McMillan, who’d spent a lot of time at Carr’s as a kid, bought the found footage and made it into a DVD, which he then screened at a local Maryland library.


Despite the fact that the times depicted in the film were not easy for the Black senior citizens who attended McMillan’s screening, many of them were still overwhelmed with emotion.


"Despite all the negatives, a lot of positives came out of that time," McMillan’s friend, Thom Saunders, told the Baltimore Sun. "Many of us have fond memories of growing up in the Black community. Yes, we were segregated, but we didn't know any better."


Nobody can fault older Blacks, or even the younger generation, for harboring negative feelings about the past, but it’s important to not throw the baby out with the bathwater, or, in this case, the ocean water. Certainly segregation was reprehensible, and the Black families in Maryland were probably ecstatic when the state finally ended beach segregation in 1955. But it’s important to note that good times were had even during Jim Crow. No matter what, you can’t keep a good community down.

Written by Cord Jefferson


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