Black Joy in the Summertime

Automatic TRANSCRIPT

during the summers of my childhood in south jersey when the sun was bright and i there were only a ways to escape the heat. There was the ice cream man but that was just a momentary fix and of course there was the log at clinton art. Our rinky little budget amusement park which was pure unadulterated chaotic bliss pricing. For all of us. But the one place i remember most fondly was at some leak tucked in the pine barrens. It was a lake filled with dark colored water with mushy patches and sharp sticks beneath your toes. Which you couldn't even see going to add. Some lake was treat for those of us who didn't have money for plane rides or rich relative to send for us at ads on. You didn't even pay per person to get in you paid per car so we pilot drive twenty minutes listening to w das. The local soul and rb station on the radio handover a few bucks when we arrived and the day was hours sandwiches baggies sour cream and onion chips cheap soda from and the polar your neighbors your cousins kids from school and most of us waiting in cool ugly amazing wooder until the sun went down. We're black and it was beautiful in some ways looking back. I can't help but think we were escaping more than the summer sun. We're finding the freedom to just be in a world where being black and free are not always congruent. Black folks in america have always found ways of escaping the strictures of this country's invisible in sometimes geographic racial boundaries and there are few more vivid illustrations of escapism than our summer traditions. Some were sent back down south to visit relatives others to grow trips along. Well-worn paths to places like at lake still others created havens that withdrawal on more than just black tourist or running from the heat of summer and the heat of racism black people have sought and built whole towns and resorts that became beacons. Black self sufficiency and independence. Were families could swim and vote and fish and be there fool selves in peace teachers and artists businessmen and women working and middle class. Folks flock the places with names. Like i'd awhile in michigan highland beach maryland open loves on martha's vineyard in massachusetts and bruce's beach in california. These black edens drew generations of upwardly mobile. Black people who are should out of white america during much of the twentieth century today just a few of these communities remain predominantly black if they remain at all they've been done in by desegregation. The evolving whims of a younger generation of black families and more recently gentrification with some of these havens have survived. Detention was removed. It was friendship and fun and games and solidarity. We stayed strong and we still a strong. I'm lee and this is into america today with summertime upon us. We explore that traditions and legacy of summering while black in one of the last enshrining black beach communities in the united states and historic enclave. In harbor on the island it was unusual. Vava gonna americans to find a place near the water on the or william pickens third spent almost his entire life. Going to sag harbor in the summers i as a kid then taking his own family out there for the season what age did you start going out there for two summers ten chance. And i'm almost eighty five. So i came out here and the tender age. When he retired he decided to live out their full time. I've been here twenty years. I was first one in my family to retire here. I met mr pickens back in two thousand eleven. When i wrote a story about sag harbor for the huffington post so i called him back up to talk about the importance of this place. It's history and his experience growing up in the black hamptons. I had an aunt who had a home here. She built in nineteen. Oh eight wow. I came out in live going to camp in the forties. I came to sag harbor. I didn't like camp too. Regimented came out here where i could fish and swim and run and bike and all that stuff. So what would that initial appeal one thousand nine hundred eight. America was a different place but lack folks were finding their way out there. What was the appeal of his bucolic country setting on the water so she liked it and heard about it and came out and bought a little house with outdoor plumbing. Not inside plumbing. We outhouse as school. I was all school but that was how our family i came to sag harbor hundred and thirteen years ago. It's still traveling from new york. Yeah from our home in brooklyn townhouse in brooklyn. The whole family was coming out. My mother would prepare lunch sandwiches and put it in ice. Put it on ice from the icebox. If you didn't ever refrigerate you had an ice box And we would load the car. We had a buick and dan would drive and along trip in those days. You didn't have all these superhighway's for our five hour trip. And they own gas stations. Every you know forty fifty miles and then we'd get to sang harbor and we'd unpack the car and go to the on by then we had our own home in nineteen fifty so we unloaded and began to enjoy the wonders of sag harbor. As a family it was country. Yeah far different. In brooklyn new you went from concrete to sand and dirt and noise to quiet those an enormous difference in the quality of life the space and the clean air and the stars at night in brooklyn. You had smoke coming out of chimneys need. Never saw the stars that here they were clarion clear. You could see beetlejuice. The little dipper in the big debut. See you can see them in new york as you can see matt out here and zang arbor and at one point. I knew all of all of the stars and that was years ago and my mind was a lot sharper for me was great change from brooklyn and i love it. How often would you go out there. Why came out in the summer days. No-one live here year. Round except the shinnecock and montauk at families pretty much but for african american families year round existence wasn't possible man so it was a summer retreat memorial day to labor day and that ninety day period was when you have family and friends come out. And that's how we did sag harbor and then one day in the fifties. Some guy named colin powell showed up from the bronx and we became friends and we both went into service later in our lives and he stayed and did pretty well. He did right from so i think he did call. Okay and what was somebody summer traditions that your family would take party well. We wrote our bikes. We have bb guns. We swam a lot a hit. The beach played baseball to jackie. Robinson just joined the dodgers so all the black kids out here in the indian kids shannon cox. We all playing baseball steinway. Jackie robinson as amazing. There were bicycle races in this kind of thing. But it's very simple nothing to elegant a strategic but fun and then it was some fishing trips. My father by boat and he died to go fishing for portuguese. And this kind of thing and adventure you hide and seek with the kids would say seek. And all the children's games that we brought out from brooklyn and the bronx per johnny on the pony and bring leo. We played those games out here and was fun in the woodland's because you could hide better than you. Canada and tenements brooklyn. Kids had more freedom. You weren't monitored you know twenty four seven and you learn a lot about yourself and your friends. There was more free time more your own time and you learn how to do things and had no experiment. If you didn't feel it you do something in brooklyn you could try it out here and it helps us all to grow into man you know. It sounds like a means to escape the hubbub of the city and city life but in many ways escaping racism and gaze of white folks. We black would come together and be who we are together. Is that accurate. Well removed the racial tension that is omnipresent in america. Where white resentment works. Its way into your daily living here. A community of people who knew each other at converse college together worked together. Lived together in queens or brooklyn or new jersey or connecticut so we did not have the police looking at us with eskin. And saying you know we don't really trust you guys you newcomers. We're going to keep an eye on you. Have that hugh. We did not have the daily tension of the the white power structure looking at us over our shoulder. Monitoring behavior can we were sort of a closed society. Here where are more raising folk ways. Webinars they weren't imposed on us. They were generated by us. Big difference big difference. Why were communities like these harbor safe spaces for black people back back then. The town was which is ninety nine percent white. There were workman in town. The plumbers and the architects. And you know you name it. Gas providers and our relationship became interesting because they needed our money because the war had ended and this town was struggling financially and black folks injected a lot of cash into the society so our relationship was fine but there wasn't much social event intercourse though. Yeah it was. The the african american families all sort of knew each other. They were just twelve at one point. Twelve families here in sag harbor hills but we all know each other including my grade school principal. He was here. Much to my chagrin. Left him in brooklyn. You bought a house right in front of ours. What did it mean to look and see this community. This is burgeoning community of hardworking industrious. Beautiful black people on veteran because you had judges and lawyers and doctors and dennis and you had bus drivers. You had taxi drivers you you know. We didn't have any differentiation. Among the professionals versus non professionals we were friends and family and your title did not matter did not matter and our first house guess was langston hughes the great writer and poet. He was my father's roommate in college and he came here in nineteen fifty two and read some poems. Was he just langston family friend. He's just call. You know he my mother very tight because they admitted i say nine hundred and five when he was a student and she encouraged him in poetry she incurs you write him and say he should should publish this and he'd back and have these letters rebecco. I'm not famous lock. Cajole him encourage. You am when he told my father. It meant this attractive woman in philadelphia. My dad talks on her out. And finally mariner shot. Let's let's stop the story as langston hughes with the matchmaker for your chance. You went back and told me there was this and philadelphia. Gotta meet it and got gotta made him and he merrin merrin wanna marry but his father said you gotta finish law school first before you use. I leave her out there available. Maria's area so they made a deal he married one thousand nine hundred thirty while he was still in in law school. Run away the graduation in nineteen thirty two. He's off fox fox out there. Hello so anyway but langston was instrumental in putting them together. Music is when all this is going on colin powell's a friend of yours got langston that you realize then even as a child there was something special about where our i took it as sort of ordinary because my parents friends and colleagues. They weren't celebrities. But we never thought that this was such as super special place that we were so different from our friends back in brooklyn. When did you start to grow. Why grew in a sixty started growing in the late sixties was during july of one thousand nine hundred sixty two. I just had three and japan. came back. I do the air force and bailout getting married. I was thinking about coming back and set a bachelor pad nine hundred sixty two that i spotted some beautiful girl walking up the beach an orange bathing suit. You can still see colleague. And she had shades on and she was beautifully ten. And i said to one of my old friends young lady. Who hadn't seem you're who and he's pat brandon. I said where's she live. She's from way down there and none of ice said walk. Introducing the tour is there are no you go introduce yourself right. I did and i want confronted her. She's one on the water and went to introduce myself and said about a movie date in that that was in A partnership that was formed right here. The waters agents saying harbor. So i only want to say harbor. Say it's amazing. how much you. Life is kind of intertwined entangled with sag harbor front. That's right saying arbor an sitting there. You know drinking a beer. Who couldn't i found out who dad was america and we were married for fifty one years. We'd be married fifty seven She had lived. You became an adult and married and had your kids out there. What are some of the members you have a brain year keys because our first born was a daughter pam and she had a first birthday party year. Second birthday party here. She's at a party because he was born june first so we celebrate in sag harbor routinely her birthday and my son's came out here and they were born and have enjoyed going up. Here this is. This is a part of their life that they don't want to give up in central tehran. Being after the break. Mr pickens talks about the origins of the black community instead harbor and we also hear from his son john stick with us can remember the feeling you got as a kid getting tucked into bed or the feeling you get now in the arms of somebody you love safe and secure is a feeling of security. That only comes through human connection. And that's why the people at simplisafe home security are so important of course simplisafe has an award-winning system. That has all the technology bells and whistles. You'd expect these days but the people simply safe really take it to the next level there around the clock anytime you need them. Whether it's fire of a medical emergency a burst pipe or even a problem while you're setting up. the system. simplisafe has person with the expertise. You need ready to help. Twenty four seven. And when you know there's always someone there to help. Well that's a feeling you just don't kit with meal security system to find out how simplisafe can make you feel safe insecure at home visit simplisafe dot com slash dateline today the customize your system and get a free security camera. That's sim plli essay f. E. dot com slash dateline today. And we're back with william pickens step back a little bit to go further back in history. Obviously through as you mentioned the sixties the black community harbor was right. You all out there. Bunch. but what about black folks and sega harbor period like how did we. I get out there and win. Because of the whaling industry willing was the economic arm of sag harbor in eighteen thirties you needed to have men who would be willing to go for a year and a half away from america to weigh all gone to the pacific. They had to go around south america. No panama canal. So you when you signed on the ship here. A few blacks from africans cape verde islands harlem brooklyn token number became shipmates on these wailing craft and they would be gone for eighteen months but that was really the first african presence in sag barbara. So you're going back to nineteen th century but by nine thousand nine hundred. John hope the great scholar from georgia as wife went from savannah georgia to say harbor by boat. She was going to live in new york but she got off the boat and sag harbor and liked it so much that she rented a room and built a house as the middle class black folk and the university folks heard about saying harbor. John hope grade scholar and then my aunt who was a teacher heard about it and they were friends she was friendly was this woman is hope because she had taught to test gigi and gave her the idea. We'll come on out so it started very small. It wasn't over thirties. That more african americans came to sag harbor and there was a schoolteacher who started technical high school and he came out and built four or five little cottages for his friends and rented them out and that started more volume of coming to say harbor back in the thirties. The depression was on so folks. Weren't taken fans investigations right harbor afforded you a fishing opportunity in cantata coming out by train and boat to check it out but you weren't buying property. The property was not for sale. That didn't happen till after world. War two an all new land became available so sag harbor as we understand. It is long island but kind of talk to us about the black beach communities within arbor. Well there three beachfront communities as your rest which was the first one. I was founded in nineteen forty seven by two sisters and all started very innocently after world. War two all. This land was available and the people who owned it needed money. Sagar wilson came along the owners. Here this family from virginia they owned all property that we have here now and he saw. Okay i'll do what they're doing and as you rest and find a lot of willing customers if the price is right who african american. That's how this happened and never was impulsive. Came through my father-in-law who helped sell the lots to all his friends. None of a beach. Gimme four or five hundred bucks and we get ourselves some property and they did the thing that made this different. Was that you own the water front. You couldn't do that in a-plus or a while but here you can own the bay front. You can actually own property that would guard against on the beach. That was the fundamental difference. And that's why the beachfront lots went really fast. He because the men and women recognized his glorious opportunity. We had our own beach and that was a big difference beach front. Ownersh you folks in the community been able to hold onto that sense as a change at all. Well it's it's changed a little bit. But i think there's a determination now that the families who can stay here we'll stay because to replace. This is almost impossible. It was wonderfully accessible for us but now it's accessible. Everybody and all we can do is guard against the encroachment by staying here and paying our bills paying taxes improving our properties That's the only way we're going to survive this. You know what. What percentage of your neighbors are black now like i'm more say what percentage of your neighbors white now has the demographics of the place dramatic change in community one of the communities at fifty five forty five now white at seventy thirty so seventy thirty one community is gone over that the stakes are that high though. If if you don't hold onto it it'd be going for all gone once it's gone. Forget to buy to buy back. Forget house for hundred thousand and now it's going to cost three million back. I mean that's the economics of the day. That's a threat. it's a threat. It was no interest from the larger community until maybe twenty five years ago. They were by never turn off the highway to see what's going on over here right. This is a black enclave. Maybe thought it was dangerous. Or maybe the waste of time. But it wasn't until the mid ninety s that the white population began to look safe harbor as an investment opportunity. So it's about twenty five years. The first fifty. Hey l. problem Because i want to ask you this. Your family's has been there for so long. And i wonder when you reflect on it all your hope for your family's legacy instead arbor francois. I wanted to continue. I'd like my children grandchildren and continue to enjoy this place because it is so special and accessible. I do have some worries about the future. I feel attached to this place. And i children are attached to this place and at attachment is so strong that i'm sure they'll move resist long as hard as they can Vacating this land. I my hope is that My great great great grandchildren have shot. Those plays and i just have one grandchild. Oh you got to get to work john. Hello is is he right there. John right there. you're here. Mr pickings his son. John was sitting next to him helping with recording amid john on the beach in sag harbor ten years ago. He's the one who hooked me up with his dad. So i got him in on the conversation. Also how you feel man hanging in there. Yeah well want to ask you ma. Obviously you know talking to your father about the legacy of your family out. There is pressure on you and your family. I don't have any kids. i don't have a wife. thank you this man. Made miracles out here literally found his wife made a life and still had brooklyn's still queen still had harlem in existence. So now we're here. We're just trying to still shelving alive and a living place. It's not a dying place you don't come here to die. You come here to live here to see your friend you come here to run outside you come here to take your shoes off you. Come here to let your dogs run you know. Come to hide you. Come here to thrive when you think about your generation the next generation are you concerned that folks will sell off and folks will look for the money and not be able to hold onto. It is a real concern. You have some like that. And then but then you have other generations where their their families are working hard to keep. This see is different for us because it didn't cost us. This was already given to us. We had to maintain and that's a costume itself but for us it's maintaining our own piece of life in our own piece of liberty in our own piece of justice and this is where we found it and this is where we've carved it out for everyone else so you don't have to come in and fight to earn these things because the respect is already understood the thing about these kids they don't change if you don't change the knox status saying that's the key to my grandma had to the door because it's the same. Wow yeah how was growing about their changed you. Well it's changed me in in. That is just giving me a well rounded experience. I mean it. It might be something more of a privilege but it's an experience it's like being able to come out and see your neighbors and know your neighbors but how your neighbors know and see you. Yeah they have to see you out on the water in join it. They had to see you driving down the beach to know that you're here enjoying rights and privileges not excluded from anything. The doors opened and the love is real. And this is god's country we are still in god's country without freedom there is no joy and we have found and freedom picking. What's it like when you hear your son. John described his experience and how much is meant to him. What does it mean when you hear him. Speak about this community that you helped kind of nurture and build. Well it means that it worked at the time and effort. We put in to establish this as a viable community over the last several decades. That that feeling Has emerged out children and grandchildren that boy. We're lucky pretty lucky. To have this and are alive and we have to figure out a way to preserve it and nurture it though. When i hit my son john extolling virtues. Place i smile william pickens. The third lives in sag harbor new york and we always love hearing from our listeners. Said don't forget you can tweet me at. Mainly that's at tre mainly my full name or write to us at into america at nbc. You and i dot com. That was into america at nbc and the letters u. n. i dot com into. America is produced by isabel angel. Alison bailey bryson barnes. Aaron don max jacobs and ice turner. Original music is by. Hannah's brown our executive producer is ellen brakeman. Entre may leave. We'll catch you next day

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