As part of city's 300th birthday, Carr's Beach will get its notice

Accepting a gift of cultural diversity

December 27, 2006|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,Sun reporter

A former African-American beach resort that drew thousands of people and national R&B acts has been named the first of 17 sites that the city will mark with a plaque as part of the Annapolis Charter 300 celebration.

The effort is an attempt to diversify the city's historical accounts beyond the signers of the Declaration of Independence, said Chuck Weikel, executive director of the celebration.

A waist-high marker will be placed at the former entrance to Carr's Beach, now private property owned by the upscale Chesapeake Harbour condominium community.

The Rev. Johnny R. Calhoun, senior pastor of the Mount Olive African Methodist Episcopal Church, said he proposed the idea to Mayor Ellen O. Moyer.

"I was concerned this tremendous cultural resource had no marker, and we could not celebrate the 300th birthday of Annapolis without sharing and affirming that story," Calhoun said. "I felt it was significantly overlooked and should be designated a [past] venue for major black performers."

During the segregated Jim Crow era of the 1950s and early 1960s, Carr's Beach had a rollicking atmosphere full of rhythm and blues, pony rides and a Ferris wheel that delighted thousands who came from all over the region to picnic, bask in the sun and splash in the water.

Among musical greats who played the pavilion at what was simply called "The Beach" were Ray Charles, James Brown, Lionel Hampton, the Shirelles and Little Richard.

Philip L. Brown, 97, a local author and historian, said sisters Elizabeth Carr Smith and Florence Carr Sparrow once owned Carr's Beach.

"It played such an important part in the lives of colored people in Annapolis, Washington, Maryland and Virginia when segregation was in full force," said Brown, a former Anne Arundel County schoolteacher. "Lot of colored teachers came because they had summers off. Crowds came by the busloads to hear big bands in full swing. I have some vivid memories of what it was like at that time."

Today, Chesapeake Harbour is a gated community, and the 40-inch by 24-inch marker on the Edgewood Road bike path will be the only reminder left of something since obliterated from the landscape, Weikel said.

After some discussion of how to treat the subject, the text will include a sidebar racial segregation with no specific mention of Annapolis.

The plaque, whose design was approved recently, was funded by two grants, about $2,500 each, from the Annapolis Community Foundation and the Four Rivers Heritage Area.

Other plaque sites to follow next year have not yet been selected.

The Charter 300 event will continue until 2008, three centuries after the royal charter government of Annapolis was established in 1708. The colonial capital city was named for the reigning Queen Anne.

Other cultural events planned for the civic birthday party include an original classical music piece and sidewalk archaeological exhibits which inform passers-by of a bygone life in private houses, gardens and mansions.

Brown said something as simple as a marker in a public space does make a difference.

Said the 97-year-old author: "So much didn't reach books and classrooms and it helps perpetuate the memories of those times. A lot of people would like to forget, but this will remind others just what it was like."

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