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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Historically Significant Black Beach in Annapolis will Become a City Park

A city park with historical ties to the Black community and entertainment in Annapolis is officially in the works. On March 14, 2022, the Blacks of the Chesapeake Foundation (BOCF) and Chesapeake Conservancy issued a joint press release to announce future plans for the remaining parcel of the Black beaches which were once owned by the Carr family of Annapolis. Elktonia Beach happens to be the last part “of the original 180-acre property purchased by Fred Carr in 1902,” according to information provided by (BOCF) and Chesapeake Conservancy.  To preserve the rich legacy of the land which is in close proximity to Carr’s Beach and Sparrow’s Beach, the property is being acquired through a private owner. The state of Maryland is playing a major role in making this a reality through contributing financial resources. 

   To achieve substantial project goals, The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR ) committed to providing  $3.68 million in grant funding from Program Open Space (POS) Stateside. This will enable supplemental POS Local funds to come from the City of Annapolis and Anne Anne Arundel County. Additionally, Maryland’s “Governor Hogan also committed $1.2 million in Local Parks and Playgrounds Infrastructure funding to the Blacks of the Chesapeake Foundation for the Carr property acquisition,” per information provided in the state’s press release.

   Within Gov. Hogan’s announcement of “Annapolis Waterfront Park Funding to Preserve Legacy of Historic Carr’s Beach,” a third funding piece was mentioned. U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin secured $2 million in congressionally directed spending.  In an interview with The Baltimore Times and The Annapolis Times newspapers, Vincent Leggett—the founder and president of the BOCF – explained that these funds have been allocated toward the strategy for planning and interpretation of the site. Complete project funds total nearly six million dollars. 

A family enjoys time at Carr’s Beach.
Photo credit: The Maryland State Archives

   Way before the progressive news of Elktonia Beach’s long-term fate was decided, Leggett started with basic goals. His efforts to preserve the culture of the Chesapeake Bay region’s African American communities through BOCF is achieved in various manners, including through authoring a book called The Chesapeake Bay Through Ebony Eyes and keeping history alive in a host of ways. A large foundation goal is promoting African American maritime and seafood industry contributions within the Chesapeake Bay region. During Leggett’s journey to preserve this rich heritage and culture, he grew fascinated about extraordinary places where African Americans found leisure, recreation and entertainment  during the period of segregation.

Four women pose at Carr’s Beach.
Photo credit: The Maryland State Archives

   “And so beginning 15 years ago, I really began to intensify my efforts, our organization’s efforts of celebrating the history and the legacy of Carr’s and Sparrow’s Beaches through exhibits, public programs, documentary films, news broadcasts or histories and the like. What we’ve been trying to do is to continue to celebrate that aspect of African American life on the Chesapeake Bay,” Leggett said. “I was aware that there was this five-acre parcel of land still existing there, and so what I have been doing for the last 15 years is continue to celebrate the history and the legacy of the beaches to one, keep public awareness, because still today it’s people that I come across that have never heard of Carr’s or Sparrow’s Beaches, nor Elktonia Beach.”

Sarah Vaughan speaks at Carr’s Beach over WANN Radio in front of a crowd.
Photo credit: The Maryland State Archives

   The Annapolitan also explained that while collaborating with others, he attempted to find ways to gain access to Elktonia Beach’s acreage, in addition to keeping stories alive, and educating others, to share more history of African American life that links to the Chesapeake Bay. This is what was in his power to do, since trying to generate the kind of money needed to purchase it was a bigger financial matter of salvaging an extremely significant part of history and culture. Leggett specifically mentioned that Annapolis-based Chesapeake Conservancy, which is an organization dealing with land conservation, was his lead organization in pivoting forward beyond hurdles. Chesapeake Conservancy’s primary roles were seeking project funding and handling governmental relations. 

   The question of why everyone who became involved in rallying to keep the memory of Black beaches alive through Elktonia Beach may cross the minds of some who simply do not know much about a different era when Black-owned resorts and waterfront venues bustled with people who longed to escape discrimination and freely embrace joy. 

Beachgoers enjoy time together.
Photo credit: The Maryland State Archives

During the interview, Leggett revealed that Elktonia Beach is adjacent to the historic Carr’s Beach and Sparrow’s Beach which became known as entertainment meccas. In the days of segregation, when African Americans could not recreate in White establishments, privately-owned and operated beaches in Annapolis filled in the gap.  Fred Carr’s daughters – Elizabeth Carr Smith and Florence Carr Sparrows— played a large role in providing a ‘safe space.These retreats offered African Americans and their families a place to swim, picnic, bask in sunshine after cold winters, and enjoy popular entertainers.

When commitments were publicly made to invest in the preservation of Elktonia Beach, Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley also recognized the milestone of merging the past with today’s improved social landscape.

   “This is a great day for the City of Annapolis,” Buckley said in Md.’s press release. “The significance of Carr’s Beach to the history of Annapolis can never be overstated. For over three decades, the beach was the place to play. From Sarah Vaughan to James Brown to Stevie Wonder, all the greats came to play on the water and look out at the Chesapeake Bay. We now have an opportunity to preserve this site and get it the national recognition it deserves. This would not have been possible without the governor and lieutenant governor, the state, the Blacks of the Chesapeake Foundation, and the Chesapeake Conservancy.”

Vincent Leggett—founder of the Blacks of the Chesapeake Foundation – stands at Elktonia Beach. The 5-acre waterfront parcel located on the Chesapeake Bay is the last remnant of the original 180-acre property purchased by Fred Carr in 1902. It will become a city park in Annapolis, Md. Carr’s and Sparrows Beaches were havens for African Americans who wanted to enjoy beaches, entertainment, and family time, during the era of segregation.
Photo credit: The Blacks of the Chesapeake Foundation

   Governor Hogan joined Buckley in expressing sentiments about partnering with the City of Annapolis to reclaim the historic and culturally significant beach.

    “As a major music venue and beloved gathering place for generations of Black Marylanders, Carr’s Beach left an incredible legacy that we will now be able to preserve for posterity,” Hogan stated in a press release.

   Now that a financial hurdle has been overcome, Leggett can move forward to ultimately enjoy the fruit of teamwork and collective labor someday. Everyone who made saving Elktonia Beach a reality did not do it in vain.

   “Well, what is so exciting to me is to just know that this parcel of land is going to be preserved in perpetuity, that worth the conservation easements that will be placed on it, it could never be developed. There will always be an open space. There will always be a public space that residents and visitors can access, and generations yet born,” Leggett said. “So to me, if we don’t bang another nail, if we don’t hang a flag, if we don’t do anything else, that is a major contribution. And to have a part in that working with the federal government, state government, city, county, government and local organizations, local community leaders, it’s just a triumphant opportunity.”

   Please visit www.blacksofthechesapeake.org to learn more about Leggett and the (BOC). Future updates about Elktonia Beach may also be available via Chesapeake Conservancy’s website, www.chesapeakeconservancy.org, and Md.’s website, www.maryland.gov .

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