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Wentworth by the Sea
Postcard of Wentworth by the Sea hotel, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.


“It was a subtle segregation.” – Jocelyn Walton

In New England, segregation was not enforced by law, as it was in the Jim Crow South, but racial discrimination was definitely present. A couple might arrive at a hotel having booked a reservation, only to find that no rooms were available. They were turned away because of their race. When black travelers entered an unfamiliar business, they never knew whether they would be welcomed or humiliated.

Rockingham Hotel
Advertising brochure for the Rockingham Hotel, State Street, Portsmouth, N.H., taken after its renovation after purchase in 1962.

African Americans were also constrained in their choice of leisure activities. Certain beaches were not open to black people. Blacks were sometimes harassed or attacked, as Gretchen Coleman-Thomas explains in her oral history interview. These forms of prejudice, both subtle and overt, created a psychological burden that was difficult to throw off.

Upscale hotels in Portsmouth and New Castle, New Hampshire, would not accept African Americans guests and did not employ black people on their staff. African Americans who attempted to patronize their restaurants were turned away or, in one particular case, offered a seat in the kitchen.