Talking About the Role of Leisure Spaces in African American History

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Andrew Kahrl, an associate professor at the University of Virginia, will be giving a talk at Guild Hall on the invitation of SANS and the Eastville Community Historical Society on August 4. Photo courtesy University of Virginia

Andrew Kahrl, an associate professor at the University of Virginia, has written extensively on the topic of the importance of beaches, parks and other recreational spaces among African Americans, as well as the battle over public beach access versus privatization, over history through modern times.

“I’ve written about everything but Sag Harbor,” said Mr. Kahrl, who has been invited to speak this weekend at Guild Hall in East Hampton by the Eastville Community Historical Society and SANS, the organization of residents who live in the traditionally African American neighborhoods of Sag Harbor Hills, Azurest and Ninevah.

In his talk, he said, “I’ll put the story of Sag Harbor as an African American haven into a national context.”

Mr. Kahrl is the author of two books, “The Land Was Ours: How Black Beaches Became White Wealth in the Coastal South,” published in 2012 by UNC Press, and “Free the Beaches,” published this year by Yale University Press. The books will be available for purchase at the talk, which is on Saturday, August 4, from 1 to 3 p.m.

He said the talk will address “the importance that leisure spaces played in the longer struggle for black freedom and some of the various ways they have been threatened in recent decades as a result of real estate development and the gentrification of the American coastline. … These spaces are revealing larger problems that we still face in America today.”

In a May 27 opinion piece titled “The North’s Jim Crow” in The New York Times, Mr. Kahrl suggested there’s a new form of segregation creeping into American society. He cited an incident at a Starbucks in Philadelphia in which a white manager called police on two African American men, one of whom wanted to use the bathroom before he ordered a drink, and an incident in Oakland, California, in which a white woman called police on a black family having a barbecue at a park.

“In contrast to the Jim Crow laws of America’s dark past, these laws supposedly apply to everyone. But in practice, they clearly don’t,” Mr. Kahrl wrote. “Like most middle-aged white people, I have spent countless hours in Starbucks without buying anything. Plenty of white people have barbecued, blasted music and drunk alcohol at that same Oakland park, without anyone calling the police. The selective enforcement of minor ordinances, as many critics note, performs the same work today that segregation laws did in the past.”

Renee Simons, a representative of SANS, said she hopes the talk will help others understand the importance of SANS as a community. The neighbors have banded together to self-fund an historic study with the goal of achieving national and state historic designation, just as other parts of the village have done.

“This is really a very important informational session because we believe that Andrew is an expert and has a wealth of info to share regarding similar communities in the United States,” Ms. Simons said. “While we may be one of the last functioning communities that started back in the 1940s and 50s that still is thriving and loving the sense of community that we’ve enjoyed over the years, we realize there is a lot to be learned by previous experiences in order to ensure the future.”

Mr. Kahrl’s talk on Saturday at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street in East Hampton, is free to attend, but registration via eventbrite.com is required. More information can be obtained by calling Eastville Historical Society at (631) 725-4711.

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