What a difference a few decades can make.
While researching a short piece for Chesapeake Quarterly on the Bay’s once popular beaches, I came across some strange reminders of the past.
There were memories of summers decades ago when rock-and-roll bands played under the stars at Mayo Beach and at other hopping Bayside spots. Listening to aging beach-goers recall those summer nights I could feel the humid dark, see sunburned bodies sway, hear crickets trill beneath crying electric guitars.
When speaking to Daryl Lofgren, I sensed an even longer history. Lofgren is manager of what is now Anne Arundel County’s Mayo Beach Park, and his enthusiasm for the place and its past stirred thoughts of lost, long-ago landscapes of Colonial mills and farms — like the one belonging to Commodore Isaac Mayo, a naval hero of the War of 1812, for whom the Mayo peninsula is named.
I was also reminded of a darker past, one of exclusion and prejudice.
During the era of segregation, African Americans and Jews were not allowed on many Bay beaches and had to look for places of their own, places like Carrs Beach or, for Jewish families out of Washington, the Captain Salem Avery House, now a watermen’s museum.
One longtime Annapolis resident described how a high school friend was turned away from a popular Bay beach for being Jewish. In fact, she wasn’t Jewish, and said so. But that didn’t matter — evidently the ticket takers didn’t believe her. In the end she was turned away simply because she looked Jewish.
That was the harsh reality of the time. You could be turned away if you belonged to the wrong race, the wrong religion. Or even if you looked like you did.
We face many political and ecological challenges in the Bay region, including rising sea level and the washing away of so much beachfront. But with our losses have come gains, and some changes have been for the better. Though we still have a long way to go, we should be thankful for how far we’ve come.
For more, see A New Day on the Bay.