During the brutality of Jim Crow, Lincoln Beach was a cultural sanctuary for African Americans. Tired of their black children drowning in ditches during the scorching summer, church community leaders pressed the city to create a sanctioned space for blacks to swim. The head of the controversial corporation United Fruit, Samuel “Banana Man” Zemurray, donated the land to the city and asked it be named after “the great emancipator.” The land straddled the most polluted area of the lake, located approximately 13 miles from the city center in the minimally-developed swampland of New Orleans East.
The ceremonial ribbon was cut in 1954.
Lincoln Beach became a world in its own, physically and spiritually separated from the discrimination and danger of the city. It comprised an amusement park, restaurants, bars, stages, carnival games, boardwalk, and a swimming pool. Teenagers dressed up sharp for the dancehall and had their first kisses. Factory workers brought their families for Sunday picnics. Irma Thomas and Fats Domino donned the stage of the all age venue.
Then, in 1959, it closed with integration. The land and the sanctuary was lost. The white lakefront park- Ponchartrain Beach- was mandated to open it’s gates to blacks. Owner, Harry Batt, shortly thereafter shut the park down.
Not surprisingly, local institutions don’t house this land’s history in their archives. This place now exists only in memory, and those memories are fading as those who once splashed pre-integration are now in their 70’s or have passed.
This full project was created with high schoolers living in New Orleans East. It utilizes collected oral histories from elders as a backdrop to the land now. Short film and accompanying text to be released early 2017.