The Other Side of Summer

Dance Troupe, 1972. Robert Breck Chapman Collection. Via flickr

When I decided last week to do a seasonal library display of items in Special Collections with a theme of “summertime leisure”, I couldn’t imagine a fluffier, less serious topic. I thought that– aside from having multiple boxes across collections retrieved from storage– the whole thing would be a breeze; just rainbows and kittens and glitter and sunshine all the way. Of course, mostly, it is:  selecting photographs taken by Robert Breck Chapman, former photographer for City Hall, is always an opportunity to gaze at beautifully composed images capturing city life during the 1970s. Also, poring through scenes from the Post Card Project— featuring kitschy vintage paper and ephemera– is pretty fun.

from the YMCA of Central Maryland records

I did notice something, however, as I sifted through multiple photos of happy campers, sunbathers, and festival-goers, and postcards of various beaches and lakes where Marylanders throughout time have congregated and cooled off during the dog days of summer. I observed that people of color and, er, people of different or lighter color did not end up in the same photographs, doing the same activities, at the same time. While segregation is a huge part of American history, it’s  unsettling to eyeball so many source documents which corroborate that fact.

#beachessowhite: Resort Pamphlets, Maryland Council of Churches papers

For instance, a huge cache of files in the Maryland Council of Churches (MCC) records tracked segregated beaches and resorts– or, at least, that’s what the context of the files suggested. Apparently from 1958 through 1964, The MCC  surveyed local beach resorts, both private and public– asking them what their attractions were, and if these shores and parks had any “restrictions”. The non-explicit goal of the surveys was to determine  if the beaches were integrated.  The results are galling, although not entirely out of line with what you would expect in the pre-Civil Rights era.  Of the attractions surveyed in our records, only eight– including various state parks, and renowned, now-shuttered resorts such as Carr’s Beach Amusement and Sparrow’s Beach (both in Annapolis) –welcomed all guests without discrimination.

The “White Pool” at Druid Hill Park, 1950. Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr. papers

While these sorts of archival discoveries really put a damper on this enjoyable little project I did as a lark, there is something positive to be gleaned out of it: archives don’t exist to whitewash history. These records are preserved in order to illuminate the past for students, faculty, and researchers. Also, in sharp contrast to the segregation documented in the not-so-fun summers of decades past, events like Artscape and other city festivals are a chance for modern Baltimoreans to coexist and enjoy one another’s company. It’s a chance to celebrate, listen to music, revel in the arts, eat funnel cake and weird meats on a stick, and point out to your fellow Old Line State denizens that it’s not the heat that’s the worst thing about summer– it’s the humidity, Hon.

Special Collections Summer Fun Showcase will be displayed on the third floor of Learning Commons in Langsdale Library. If you would like to see any of the artifacts in person, or want to explore our various archival collections, you’re welcome to make an appointment.

Carr’s Beach leaflet circa 1960. Maryland Council of Churches Records

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