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People and Places

Dinner at Rock Rest
Dinner at Rock Rest in Kittery, Maine. Courtesy Milne Special Collections and Archives Department, University of New Hampshire Library, Durham, New Hampshire.


“You had an opportunity to meet African Americans from all over the country” – Lee Van Allen

African American vacationers in New England included doctors, lawyers, and other professionals working in black communities. Others were civil servants or educators. The majority lived in cities and suburbs on the East Coast, from Washington D.C. north, but others came from as far as Chicago or Georgia.

These men and women usually began planning their vacations by asking friends and neighbors about good vacation spots. Numerous inns and guesthouses throughout New England served an African American clientele. Some, like Rock Rest in Kittery and the Cummings’ Guest House in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, were tucked away in predominantly white communities. Others, like the Shearer Cottage, were located in the vibrant and historic black resort community of Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. African American families had been vacationing there since the mid-nineteenth century and many had purchased their own summer homes. Travelers might also refer to specialized guidebooks like The Negro Motorist Green Book, which listed only “first class” businesses catering to African Americans.

A good referral was valuable, because the quality of accommodations at inns was decidedly uneven. The black proprietors and staff ran Rock Rest, Cummings’ Guest House, and Shearer Cottage professionally, providing guests with clean, comfortable accommodations and meals that rivaled the best hotel dining. Guests returned year after year and often brought friends along with them.

People and Places