Old. New. Fear. Excitement. Historical. Cultural. These are the words that came to my mind during the last Ninevah Beach homeowners meeting. Who is at fault? The owners of the small, quaint beach cottages? Their children? Or the wide-eyed newcomers? Ninevah Beach on the East End of Long Island is considered by some, to be the more conservative and quiet of the three African American beach communities in Sag Harbor. The “ development” has four streets and is connected to the other communities, Azurest and Sag Harbor Hills, by the beautiful, tranquil beach. The residents walk along the white sand and enjoy the Sag Harbor bay and marsh lands. For many years, the homeowners, have met once a month during the summer to discuss the community issues: beautification, beach clean up, etc. Will this continue? Will this treasured and historic beach community thrive? Will African American families always feel truly comfortable here? So many questions were running through my mind as I sat down for the meeting.
The July meeting started off with courteous exchanges between the homeowners. The association President called the meeting to order and the older members tried to get comfortable in the chairs arranged in a circle at the dead end. The meeting started with a white older woman who was a new homeowner speaking first. She proposed “ Let’s purchase a storage cabinet at the entryway of the beach to hold residents’ chairs, beach toys and umbrellas…so they don’t schlep it back and forth from their homes. I just hate to see them having to drag their stuff back and forth each day”. A middle aged African American woman adjusted her eyeglasses on her face and quipped back “ That is the fun of the summer…I loved walking to the beach when my daughter was young with her beach toys”. Side conversations started and clearly the older residents thought a storage locker positioned at the entryway would change the Ninevah beach landscape they adored.
As I drive over the bridge from Noyac into Sag Harbor I feel relaxed and nostalgic. I reminisce about the simpler days when we would sit on the dock and watch small boats navigate the bay. I am thankful for the sacrifices my grandparents and parents made to allow us to enjoy the many years in Sag Harbor.There were often three generations in our small ranch styled three bedroom house. My brother and I would catch baby blue fish in the marsh at high tide, my grandmother and great aunt would cook the fish and my parents would invite over friends and share the catch of the day. Today, I still enjoy spending weekends in our home. We still have three generations in the house. I often drive my daughter to her friends house in Bridgehampton, since there are fewer teenagers in the area. We often treat ourselves and try a new restaurant in Sag Harbor or Montauk and forgo cooking in the house.
I remember during the early 1980s, the streets were not paved and we had to drive slowly through sand filled streets. Later in the mid 80’s, the homeowners came together, and purchased bonds to pay for the pavement of the roads. The homeowners were so proud at the way they all came together to pave their new blacktop private road. As a teenager, I enjoyed spending summer days on the beach with my close friends and sneaking through the developments at night in the pitch dark. We would always gather in the basement of one of the community homes, where we could spend the evening listening to music and laughing at jokes. During the school year, my parents would drive out to “check on” the house on weekends. After a long work week, my father would bring his tools and make necessary repairs and updates. My mother would enjoy the calmness and recruit us to help rake the leaves during the fall months.
Times have changed. Many of my friends from my youth have moved out of the area, there are fewer black teens running on the beach because they usually attend exclusive camps across the country. The many elderly residents who reminisce about the past try their best to plan exciting social events but often shake their head at the prospects for the future.
Many African Americans ventured out from NYC in the 1950s and formed a beach community where they could feel safe and enjoy their weekends and summers. During that time there were many areas of eastern Long Island, where Blacks were not welcomed. Now in the small village of Sag Harbor, there are new ostentatious houses on small lots, where in the past, there were small cottage houses that did not require much maintenance but were filled with love. Toward the end of the brief property owners beach meeting, long time residents discussed with new homeowners about the difference between trying to preserve our culture and establishing historical landmark designation. I have often been too “busy” to attend an association meeting but was nudged by my mom and thought that it was important to help with the community I loved and enjoyed since my childhood. I felt sad as I listened to the discussion. How did our African American community arrive to this point were we had to defend our need to preserve our legacy ? Of course, communities across the country always change. This community welcomed in all the new homeowners at every association meeting and has kept in touch with families that have relocated. That is what has made Ninevah Beach on the East End of Long Island so special. But who will remember the struggles of the African American families who yearned for a place of tranquility?