Landmark Status for Three Neighborhoods?

Residents of Sag Harbor Hills, Azurest, and Ninevah Beach, predominately black neighborhoods popularly known as SANS, cheered when they learned on Saturday that their communities are eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Julian Adams of the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, in the audience at Guild Hall’s John Drew Theater for a talk by Andrew W. Kahrl, an assistant professor of history and African-American Studies at the University of Virginia, made the announcement. He described how the three Sag Harbor communities, one of the few remaining black resort areas in the United States, came to be owned by African-Americans, who were unwelcome at white resorts. 

Georgette Grier-Key, the executive director of the Eastville Community Historical Society, which is based in Sag Harbor, had invited the audience. Renee Simons, who acted as M.C., said petitions were being circulated for 50 percent of the 306 houses in the three communities, asking that they be landmarked. 

Dr. Kahrl is the author of “The Land Was Ours: How Black Beaches Became White Wealth in the Coastal South,” which won the 2013 Liberty Legacy Foundation Award from the Organization of American Historians for the “best book in civil rights history.” In it, he shows how almost all African-American beachfront communities were eventually dispossessed by legal and extra-legal means and, in particular and ironically, during the civil rights movement in the 1960s and ’70s. He pointed out that beaches did not have much value as real estate in the first half of the 20th century. Unwelcome at white resorts, African-Americans came to Sag Harbor, and to Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard and Highland Beach, Md., in the postwar years. Sag Harbor is now one of the few remaining African-American resorts in the United States. He noted, however, that as black resort areas increased in value they were co-opted by white landlords. That was not the case here.

The three Sag Harbor locales go back to 1947, when Azurest was founded. They began to evolve as year-round rather than summer communities in the late 1970s when public water was installed and roads were paved. A 40-year-old film showing a good number of those in the Guild Hall audience when they were young drew laughter and guffaws.

Another of Dr. Kahrl’s books, “Free the Beaches: The Story of Ned Coll and the Battle for America’s Most Exclusive Shoreline” (Yale Press), is about a Hartford man who led protests by African-American mothers and children during the civil rights years that helped open restricted beaches in Connecticut, a state many people think of as enlightened. Mr. Coll took youngsters from housing projects in the north end of Hartford to private or town residents-only beaches along the Connecticut shore. 

To some extent, Mr. Kahrl, who is white, could be said to have been preaching to the converted. The audience swamped him when the program was over, buying and asking him to sign his latest book.