“Respite in Sag Harbor” Opens Saturday

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Photography from the Johnson family archive.

The Eastville Community Historical Society will open a new exhibition, “Black Leisure: Respite in Sag Harbor,” this weekend at the Eastville Heritage House on Hampton Street in Sag Harbor. The exhibit, which will have an opening reception from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, features photographs from the society’s archive of the Johnson Family Collection.

According to a press release issued by the society early this week, the Black Leisure, Resort and Recreational Movement was primarily a resistance to Jim Crow laws, with African Americans in Sag Harbor joining this recognized national movement.Collectively, Eastville and SagHarbor Hills, Azurest, and Ninevah (SANS) share 180 years of uninterruptedresiliency and ownership, says the society in its press release.

Eastville, known as an African-American and Native American neighborhood, was not considered part of Sag Harbor until the late 19th 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 19th 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 20th 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 African American waterfront resort community. 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 architect Amaza Lee Meredith, who designed two homes in Sag Harbor’s Azurest community.

In addition to the opening on Saturday, there will be a free walking tour of Eastville with the society Executive Director Georgette Grier-Key from 2 to 3 p.m. For more information, visit eastvillehistorical.org.

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Kathryn G. Menu is the editor and co-publisher of The Sag Harbor Express and The Express Magazine.