A fascinating historical exhibition will be on view starting next Saturday, May 19th, 2018, open from 12-4pm at the Eastville Heritage House at 139 Hampton St, Sag Harbor.
"Black Leisure: Respite in Sag Harbor" features photographs from the Eastville Community Historical Society’s archive of the Johnson Family Collection. The Black Leisure, Resort, and Recreational movement was primarily a resistance to Jim Crow, and African Americans in Sag Harbor participated in this recognized and national movement.
The survival of these historic documents in Sag Harbor is extraordinary and a tremendous testament to black material culture on the East End. Collectively, Eastville and Sag Harbor Hills, Azurest, and Ninevah (SANS) share 180 years of uninterrupted resiliency and ownership.
Eastville, known as the African-American and Native American neighborhood, was not considered part of Sag Harbor until the late nineteenth century, when several houses were built to accommodate the influx of factory and resort workers. Census records and other documents indicate that many of the male residents of Eastville during the nineteenth century were engaged in Sag Harbor’s most important industry, whaling, including members of the Hempstead, Cuffee, Ward, Pharoah, and Jupiter families.
After the Civil War and the decline of maritime industries in Sag Harbor, many residents of Eastville made a living not from the sea but as support staff for the summer resort industry and year-round wealthy households as cooks, waiters, housekeepers, gardeners, launderers, and seamstresses. It became a multicultural working class community that drew African Americans, Native Americans, and European immigrants.
As Sag Harbor became a tourist destination in the twentieth century, African American vacationers found lodging in Eastville’s boarding houses and built their own homes and developments, leading to its modern identity as a Black waterfront resort community.
Today Eastville retains its ethnic mix, while preserving its modest character amidst the glamour and wealth of the Hamptons. The Black Leisure movement, created in opposition to Jim Crow, gave Blacks access to waterfront recreation. These developments in Sag Harbor have lasted for more than 70 years, unlike some of their counterpart black resort communities such as Idlewild in Chicago, Amelia Island in Florida, and Hilton Head in South Carolina.
The Sag Harbor resort developments had a plethora of professional and cultural ambassadors, who lived, worked, and vacationed in the developments, including Langston Hughes, Lena Horn, Tuskegee airman Roscoe Brown, and Amaza Lee Meredith, “One of the Nation’s First Documented African-American Female Architects” who designed two homes in Sag Harbor’s Azurest community. Oak Bluffs, on Martha’s Vineyard, is one of the more popular Black Leisure places because of its well-known Black celebrity residents and visitors. The Black Leisure movement that lasted for 100 years was in direct opposition to segregation -- separate and unequal. These communities are testaments to and answer Blacks’ unanswered aspirations regardless of attainment.
In addition to the opening on Saturday, May 19th, there will be a free Walking Tour of Eastville with Executive Director Georgette Grier-Key from 2pm-3pm. in celebration and as part of the Sag Harbor Cultural Heritage Weekend, May 18-20th.