Beach developers ousted black farmers

“At the start of the twentieth century, [historian Andrew W.] Kahrl writes, shorelines were the South’s ‘most forsaken and forgotten lands.’ They were unsuited to most agricultural purposes, prone to violent storms, and covered in forests where dangerous animals lived. But developers were beginning to see the promise in creating seaside getaways.

“One barrier standing in their way was Black farmers, many of whom had been relegated to the less-fertile land near the ocean. By the 1920s, nightriders were burning Black-owned homes across the coastal South and warning African Americans to sell their land. Local jumps in real estate values were accompanied by increased racial terrorism.

“Some Black locals responded with their own development plans. In 1923, a group of Black doctors, lawyers, and ministers bought Shell Island, North Carolina, and turned it into a resort.

“ ‘After three successful seasons, it suffered a series of fires “of undetermined origin” that eventually forced investors to cut their losses and abandon the property, thus restoring the “color line” in North Carolina’s coastal real estate market,’ Kahrl writes.”

— From “How the Beaches of the South Got There” by Livia Gershon at JSTOR Daily (July 6) 

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