Sounds like the title of a book about the work of those two great Americans, doesn’t it?
The two did cross paths, but we’re talking about a literal sense - the intersection of Douglass Avenue and Langston Avenue in Highland Beach, Maryland.
Located about five miles south of Annapolis, the 40-acre beach community has a forgotten past. In its heyday, prominent African-Americans living in Washington, such as Paul Roberson, Langston Hughes and Booker T. Washington, escaped the city for privacy and relaxation at the secluded vacation spot along the Chesapeake. D.C. residents Paul Dunbar and Robert and Mary Terrell had homes here, as well as celebrities such as Bill Cosby and Arthur Ashe. The beach community was one of the first for blacks.
I had no clue about this place until I was browsing titles at Donning Publishers. I came upon, “Highland Beach on the Chesapeake Beach, Maryland’s First African American Incorporated Town.” Disappointed the book ($50) is not at any area libraries, I was pleased further googling found "The Land Was Ours: African American beaches from Jim Crow to the Sunbelt South" by Andrew Kahrl.
Highland Beach is surrounded on three sides by water – the Chesapeake, Black Walnut Creek and Oyster Creek. There are about sixty homes there, mostly cottages and bungalows. Many of its residents trace their lineage back to the original inhabitants.
The standout property of Highland Beach is Twin Oaks at 3200 Wayman Avenue. Also known as the Douglass Summer Home, it was built in the Queen Anne style by Frederick Douglass’ son and Civil War veteran, Major Charles Douglass. After Bay Ridge resort discriminated against him in 1890, he bought the tucked away land south of the resort. Douglass surveyed the land and set out 104 lots.
Son built the home for father, but the “Sage of Anacostia” passed away before its completion in 1895. Twin Oaks is the oldest house in Highland Beach, but does not look like it. A handsome renovation took place in 1987.
The demographics of Highland Beach have changed through the years. Incorporated in 1922, it became the first African-American municipality in Maryland. As The Washington Post noted in an article in August 7, 2003.
That Highland Beach has changed so little is, in many ways, what makes this community distinctive. Elsewhere around the bay, neighborhoods that started as summer resort communities have succumbed to the pressures of development and individuals' desires to own a slice of the beach for themselves. As a result, most the waterfront on the Chesapeake has disappeared from the public realm, piece by piece.” Our beachfront is public land for the benefit of the entire community.
Just three miles north of Highland Beach lies the historic community of Eastport. Filled with fabulous views that look across the harbor and ringed with boats, the enclave sports its own distinct maritime character. Victorian and Craftsmen homes line the thin streets. The Annapolis Maritime Museum and the Annapolis Yacht Club are must see spots.
Eastport offers a well-documented walking tour, a forth night’s worth of markers, one of the best such self-guided tours I have seen. The history goes back to the Algonquin natives and Cecil Calvert, who first patented the land in 1665.
As Arlene Kay Berlin notes, much of Eastport’s history comes out of the Yacht Yard period. In the 1950s, Arnie Gay helped make Annapolis "America’s Sailing Capital."
In 1951, residents of Eastport cried humph when the town was annexed to the City of Annapolis. The rivalry heated back up in 1998 when the Maryland State Highway Commission shut down the main in and out bridge for repair. Sounds like the folks there have a sense of humor, however. They established the, “Maritime Republic of Eastport.”
According to their official website, “the citizens of Eastport took advantage of their isolation to sever their social, political and economic ties as well - tongue in cheek - in celebration of our eclectic and quirky neighborhood.”
All in all, a fab trip to the south side of Annapolis. It’s a place that knows how to build boats and bridges.