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

Overview

Driving along the coasts of the American South, we see miles of luxury condominiums, timeshare resorts, and gated communities. Yet, a century ago, a surprising amount of beachfront property in the Chesapeake, along the Carolina shore, and around the Gulf of Mexico was owned and populated by African Americans. In a pathbreaking combination of social and environmental history, Andrew W. Kahrl shows how the rise and fall of Jim Crow and the growing prosperity of the Sunbelt have transformed both communities and ...

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Overview

Driving along the coasts of the American South, we see miles of luxury condominiums, timeshare resorts, and gated communities. Yet, a century ago, a surprising amount of beachfront property in the Chesapeake, along the Carolina shore, and around the Gulf of Mexico was owned and populated by African Americans. In a pathbreaking combination of social and environmental history, Andrew W. Kahrl shows how the rise and fall of Jim Crow and the growing prosperity of the Sunbelt have transformed both communities and ecosystems along the southern seaboard.

Kahrl traces the history of these dynamic coastlines in all their incarnations, from unimproved marshlands to segregated beaches, from exclusive resorts for the black elite to campgrounds for religious revival. His careful reconstruction of African American life, labor, and leisure in small oceanside communities reveals the variety of ways African Americans pursued freedom and mobility through the land under their feet.

The Land Was Ours makes unexpected connections between two seemingly diverse topics: African Americans' struggles for economic empowerment and the ecology of coastal lands. Kahrl's innovative approach allows him fresh insights into the rise of African American consumers and the widespread campaigns to dispossess blacks of their property. His skillful portrayal of African American landowners and real-estate developers rescues the stories of these architects of the southern landscape from historical neglect. Ultimately, Kahrl offers readers a thoughtful, judicious appraisal of the ambiguous legacy of racial progress in the Sunbelt.

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Editorial Reviews

Mark M. Smith
A decidedly fresh and nuanced perspective on Jim Crow. By deftly weaving together fascinating and largely unknown stories of African American life and leisure, Kahrl explores how beaches and waterfronts became sites of racial contest. His book shows that the coastlines of the South served as powerful microcosms of the larger forces shaping Southern race relations in the twentieth century. Highly persuasive and original, The Land Was Ours reminds us that serious and innovative academic work can be engaging and enjoyable.
Davarian L. Baldwin
Those men and women whom Richard Wright once called the "landless upon the land" now have a history and a historian. Kahrl's rich archival portrait of black-owned beaches and coastal resorts redraws the map of community and capitalism in the Jim Crow South. The Land Was Ours demonstrates that African Americans never abandoned the land as a vital site of struggle in the larger Black Freedom movement. A landmark study of race, leisure, and real estate on America's shorelines.
Pete Daniel
Kahrl's exhaustively researched and compelling book chronicles African Americans' search for seaside sanctuaries beyond the gaze of white America. He uncovers sobering and significant stories that not only extend our understanding of civil rights but also uncover the many faces of coastal communities in the South. We encounter the triumphs and setbacks of African American entrepreneurs and the joys and affirmations of shared recreation, as well as real-estate fraud, environmental degradation, arson, and diabolical schemes to undermine black seaside resorts from the Chesapeake to Mississippi.
Henry Louis Gates Jr.
The Land Was Ours is a careful, rich, and provocative book that contributes significantly to our understanding of race in twentieth-century America. In addition to offering an original narrative of the ways in which race is an inescapable factor in Americans' conception and construction of class, Kahrl also shines a light on the mechanics of segregation, desegregation, and integration: Jim Crow required intricate planning and execution, but so did efforts to resist and, ultimately, dismantle it.
W. Fitzhugh Brundage
A powerful reminder of the pernicious constraints that racism has imposed on African American leisure. In this beautifully crafted and revelatory study, Kahrl recounts the mixture of bootstrap black capitalism and white racism that fueled the creation of segregated pleasure grounds and eventually led to their disappearance. Perhaps only David Mamet could create a more colorful cast of characters than the developers and entrepreneurs who populate Kahrl's bittersweet history of the shifting fortunes of black coastal resorts.
Capital Gazette - Janice Hayes-Williams
This account of African-American beaches will keep you turning the pages until it is done.
Choice - J. Borchert
This is an excellent book; well written and researched, it effectively and impressively combines political economy, ecology, and social history into a tightly told story.
North Carolina Historical Review - Beryl Satter
Andrew W. Kahrl brilliantly reinterprets the economic and cultural meanings of racial segregation, and the apparently race-neutral political system that superseded it, through a highly original angle--the history of black ownership of seaside land. The topic may sound dry. In Kahrl's hands, it is anything but...It is a must read for anyone concerned with racism, private property, economic development, the history of leisure and popular culture, or environmental justice...[A] heartbreaking and hugely important study.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674050471
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/16/2012
  • Pages: 376
  • Sales rank: 797,905
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 2.89 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew W. Kahrl is Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies at the University of Virginia.
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Table of Contents

List of Maps ix

Introduction: "Bring Back My Yesterday" 1

1 Corporate Ventures 20

2 A Sanctuary by the Sea 52

3 Building Black Privatopias 86

4 Surviving the Summer 115

5 Family Ties 155

6 Spinning Sand into Gold 178

7 The Price We Pay for Progress 210

Epilogue 250

Notes 261

Primary Sources 325

Acknowledgments 329

Index 333

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