Highland Beach memories

April 20, 1995

For almost three years, since a fire badly damaged its home on Charles Street, the Eubie Blake Cultural Center has been leading a vagabond life. Its current digs are on the ground floor of the Brokerage complex at 34 Market Place, which will soon be part of Port Discovery, Baltimore's new children's museum.

If its guest book is any indication, the Eubie Blake center draws precious few visitors these days. Thus, a small but intriguing exhibit there about Highland Beach has gone without virtually any public or media notice.

Highland Beach near Annapolis was a famous segregation-era summer resort for blacks who were barred from such for-whites-only beaches as Bay Ridge, which was on the other side of a narrow channel now known as Black Walnut Creek.

Highland Beach came into being in 1892 after Charles Douglass, a son of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and his wife were told they could not use Bay Ridge. They then struck a deal with a black farmer owning the land on the other side, forming a 26-acre beach resort for African Americans.

Over the next 70 years, Highland Beach became known far beyond the Chesapeake region.

Among its summer colony's permanent residents were the sociologist E. Franklin Frazier and Robert Weaver, whom President Lyndon B. Johnson selected as the first black to serve in a cabinet, and they in turn drew other notables. In the early days, Paul Laurence Dunbar would recite his poetry; in later years a visiting Paul Robeson would give a spontaneous concert.

All this is chronicled in the Eubie Blake exhibit of photographs, documents and memorabilia, which will be on view through April 28. Admission is free. For hours, call 625-3113.

Highland Beach was the first chartered African American town in Maryland. Today, many of its residents stay there throughout the year. As the exhibit shows, they are proud of their history and hope to establish a town museum to preserve it.

As for the Eubie Blake center, it plans eventually to relocate to the corner of Franklin and Howard streets. A new permanent home ought to make valuable exhibits, such as the one on Highland Beach, more accessible to the general public.

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