Claiming a Piece of the American Dream: African American Vacationers in New England, 1930-1964
In the mid-twentieth century, African Americans overcame segregation and created places to enjoy vacations in New England. Today, Americans can vacation wherever they please, as long as they have the money. For middle-class black Americans in the mid-twentieth century, however, this was not the case. Although these teachers, doctors, postal workers, lawyers, and ministers had overcome limited career options and could afford to go on vacation, they still could not count on being welcomed in mainstream restaurants or hotels.
Middle-class African Americans vacationed throughout the United States, in places like Sag Harbor, Long Island; Highland Beach, Maryland; and Idlewild, Michigan. In the northeast, New England’s cool oceans, quiet forests, and historic towns drew African Americans as well as whites. Recognizing an opportunity, some entrepreneurs started businesses to serve black vacationers along the New England coast. In Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts, a historic black vacation community continued to grow as families bought summer homes. Although racism and de facto discrimination were very much present in New England, African Americans carved out spaces where they did not have to compromise on safety, quality, and comfort.
Research and text by Jacob Barry, master's candidate, Museum Studies at the Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York at Oneonta. This exhibit was created in partnership with the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail as part of Historic New England's 100 Years, 100 Communities initiative to preserve and share twentieth-century history.