Written by Jamal Childs

In the annals of American history, there are places that serve as more than just landmarks; they are repositories of resilience, joy and cultural heritage. Longtime Lightning Update readers will recall that one such place is Elktonia-Carr’s Beach, nestled on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula. This storied destination, once a haven for African American families seeking respite from segregation, is now the focal point of a remarkable preservation effort that underscores the importance of inclusivity and historical conservation.

The story of Elktonia-Carr’s Beach goes back to 1902 when Frederick Carr, a Freedman, acquired 180 acres of farmland. Little did he know that this humble purchase would sow the seeds for what would later become Carr’s and Sparrow’s Beaches, cherished retreats for generations of African Americans. Under the stewardship of Carr’s daughters, Elizabeth Carr and Florence Carr Sparrow, “The Beaches,” as they were called, blossomed into vibrant resorts, affectionately dubbed “A Black Eden,”

A family on the shorelines of Carr’s and Sparrow’s beaches

During the height of segregation in the late 1940s, The Beaches emerged as beacons of hope and empowerment for Black families. Here, they found a safe haven where they could enjoy nature’s beauty and entertainment without fear of harassment. The Beaches became synonymous with sanctuary, embodying the spirit of community and solidarity in the face of adversity.

Central to the allure of Carr’s Beach were the countless performances by renowned artists in Black entertainment. From Wilson Picket to The Temptations, from Ike and Tina Turner to Ella Fitzgerald, the stage at Carr’s Beach hosted a constellation of stars, leaving an indelible mark on its cultural landscape. These performances not only entertained but also celebrated the rich heritage of African American music and culture.

Countless famous African-American artists and personalities performed at the legendary Carr’s and Sparrow’s beaches.

Maryland Heritage Area Authority and hundreds of private donors, including Merrill Family Foundation, France-Merrick Foundation and William L. and Victorine Q. Adams Foundation, Inc.

Together, the two properties will become the expanded Elktonia-Carr’s Beach Heritage Park, managed by the City of Annapolis Department of Recreation and Parks. There are also plans for the location to become the headquarters for Blacks of the Chesapeake Foundation.

“Today represents another historic milestone of achievement for the 20-year odyssey to preserve the last vestiges of African American land situated directly on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. The historic locations of the Carr’s, Sparrow’s, Elktonia Beaches, and now the Parlett Moore family cottage, represent the ‘Black Coast’ of the Bay,” said Vince Leggett, Blacks of the Chesapeake’s president and founder.

In the coming months, the City of Annapolis Department of Recreation and Parks will develop, through a community public input process, a master plan for both properties, which the department will manage. The overall plan will incorporate storytelling components about the history of the site, as well as a coastal and shoreline restoration plan in partnership with the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Resilience Finance Authority.

 Blacks of the Chesapeake President & Founder Vince Leggett, The Conservation Fund Maryland State Director Bill Crouch and Chesapeake Conservancy President & CEO Joel Dunn

Image credit:

  1. Jamal Childs
  2. Maryland State Archives – Thomas R. Baden Jr.
  3. Blacks of the Chesapeake Foundation
  4. Chesapeake Conservancy – J.T. Dean

Lightning Update is a regular communication of the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions of the Partnership or member organizations.
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Virginia Outdoors Foundation
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