On Segregated Shores: The Story of Lincoln Beach 1939-1964

Lincoln Beach 1948

Lincoln Beach-1948

While Pontchartrain Beach would continue to grow into a major beach and amusement area, colored bathers had few options other than water hoses to find relief from the heat. Finally, in 1938, a wealthy real estate investor and international fruit magnate, known as Sam “The Banana Man” Zemurray, decided to deed land to the city for the purpose of using it as a permanent beach for the colored community. This land consisted of 2.3 acres in a section east of the Industrial Canal known as Little Woods. It would become known as Lincoln Beach, in honor of the Great Emancipator. The following year (1939) the WPA built a sand beach and beach house on the site.

By no means was Lincoln Beach comparable to the white-only Pontchartrain Beach. For starters, it was located 14 miles from the center of the city, far removed from the bulk of  black neighborhoods. It was also very inaccessible by public transportation. There were railroad tracts separating the beach from the major street, Haynes Blvd., which meant that beach goers had to dodge oncoming trains. Many felt that the city purposely chose this site so far out to make sure no one could see the colored folks but the colored folks themselves.

The most serious problem occurred when the levee board cancelled the leases on all fishing camps located on the south shore and offered new leases for the stretch of  shore adjacent to Lincoln Beach. By 1941 over 175 fishing camps emptied raw sewerage within a three-mile radius of Lincoln Beach where beach goers were swimming. The pollution was so serious that the N.O. Urban League produced scientific evidence showing Lincoln Beach to be unfit for bathing and grossly contaminated. The city’s sanitation department reported also that the beach area was definitely polluted and unsanitary. Closure was highly recommended.

Lincoln Beach-1953

Lincoln Beach-1954-1964 (Aerial View)

By 1951, the uproar in the community grew so loud that newly elected Mayor Morrison and the levee board  announced a $500,000 plan to refurbish Lincoln Beach and, as they said, to make it the equal of Pontchartrain Beach. Several initiatives were undertaken:

1. Barges dumped white sand along the expanded shoreline and fill was used to expand the site to 17 acres from its original 2 and 1/3 acres.

2. Three swimming pools-a wading pool for children, a large swimming pool and a separate   deep-water diving pool were constructed along with a purification plant.

3. Adjacent to the pool was a new bath house with approximately 2,000 lockers for the use of both lake and pool bathers.

4. The area across the highway from the beach was landscaped for use as picnic grounds and a restaurant and midway were added.

5. The Levee Board leased Lincoln Beach to a company led by Paul Lacassin to construct an arcade, Ferris wheel, roller coaster and numerous other rides.

On May 8, 1954, at a total cost of one million dollars, a huge dedication ceremony took  place that included Mayor Morrison, Governor Robert Kennon and a host of other state and local dignitaries. Ten thousand filled the midway as Papa Celestine’s Dixieland Band played jazz.  Despite its distance from the city, this area became an increasingly popular summer destination for the city’s working-class black population.

Thursday night dance parties were now hosted by deejay Larry Mckinley, and a Friday night “Dance under the Stars” were held on the outdoor roof terrace. Regal Beer hosted its annual Regal Hospitality Hostess Contest where young women could compete for a $250.00 cash prize. Candy and soda companies offered free admission to children bearing their wrappers and bottle caps. Sunbeam placed coupons for free rides inside packages of their loaves of bread, while  Kaiser Aluminum provided its employees and families with a day of free rides, food, and entertainment.

Talent shows were regularly staged on the beach’s pavilion each summer, and this is where the Aubry Twins and other groups got their start. In 1954, the levee board held its first annual Miss Lincoln Beach Contest.That year’s winner was a high school senior, June Foster who received a 50 inch gold-plated cup, gifts, and her picture in Jet magazine receiving a kiss from the master of ceremonies, Nat King Cole. Great musical performers as Ray Charles, the Ink Spots, and Sam Cooke graced the stage. Such well known local artists as Fats Domino, Fats Pichon,  Neville Brothers, and Irma Thomas performed here before hometown fans.

Lincoln Beach soon became not only a city but a statewide recreational center. Its growth continued until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Federal courts ordered an end to discrimination at amusement parks on public lands, and Lincoln Beach abruptly closed.

The neglected buildings eventually fell into disrepair and were allowed to decay. They became   victims of nature and vandals. Plans at various times have been discussed about bringing the property back to life, but to no avail. A piece of New Orleans’ history has now faded into the past.

In the meantime, Pontchartrain became integrated in 1964. It remained opened for the next 19 years, closing its doors on September 23, 1983. Several of its rides ended up in Gulf Shores, Alabama. The land is now occupied by the University of New Orleans and a mile long beach is still in the same area that Pontchartrain Beach once made accessible to its public.

Sources: Louisiana Division/City Archives, New Orleans Public Library (photo-aerial view); Research on Lincoln Beach, taken from many of the same primary sources, has been published by Andrew W. Kahrl in his book, The Land was Ours, African American Beaches from Jim Crow to the Sunbelt South, published by Harvard Univ. Press, 2012; The LA Weekly (photo-1948)15 May,1948 p.6 web sites: www.waymarking.com; www.examiner.com; www.wikipedia.com

Lolita V. Cherrie

5 thoughts on “On Segregated Shores: The Story of Lincoln Beach 1939-1964

  1. “Separate, but unequal,” said my dad when I told him about this post about Lincoln Beach. My dad, Deacon John, used to play Lincoln Beach as a teenager in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He was in high school in the late ’50s; he’d play in pickup bands with Roger Lewis and Freddy Kemp, among other musicians. He tells me that Lincoln Beach’s entertainment director was named Solomon Spencer, who was also the band director at Cohen High School—and was a booking agent on the side. Mr. Spencer would book the bands for the weekends, and they’d rotate playing the midway and the indoors lounge throughout the day, and get paid $12 for the day. New Orleans notables that played there included Lloyd Price, Shirley & Lee and Larry Williams; Allen Toussaint performed there as a trampoline artist (he wasn’t known for being a musician yet). More famous artists that performed there were Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, the Coasters, the Drifters, and Roy Brown. My dad also reminisced about a Ms. Quill, who would sell food out of her truck outside of Lincoln Beach—pickles, ice cream, popsicles, dreamsicles, Cracker Jacks, potato chips, penny candy, peppermint sticks, hot dogs and hamburgers, popcorn, snoballs… She was there before you went into Lincoln Beach, and was waiting out there when you left. She kept her business going all through the civil rights movement, he says. Wherever there was a black event in the city, Ms. Quill was there.

    • What great information! Thanks so much, Lisa, for obtaining all this extra wealth of information from your dad. Of course, we all know Deacon John. He is such a legendary and well loved musician here in New Orleans and across the country. What about interviewing him on his musical roots for a post on our blog? Let me know if it’s possible (Lolitac454@aol.com). Can’t imagine Allen Toussaint as a trampoline artist!

  2. The story of Lincoln Beach does bring back old but good memories even during the time of Jim Crow. Yes, the article was right about the long distance one had to take as it was far from the main part of the city. We lived uptown and when I say we-I am mainly talking about my grandmother Lottie Boutte who in her old age became mother, father and grandmother to now three grand children due to the illness of her daughter and her second son-in-law.

    As a girl, my grand drove a an old Model T-Ford selling life insurance but she had no car when I grew up under her care so we would take the one and half hour bus ( at least 3 buses) trip to Lincoln Beach at least several times in the summer. I learned how to swim in the Lake before it again was condemned unfit for swimming. I was about six then and that was when we first started going there with my grand.I would swim all day in the swimming pool as well. My grand packed good lunches and she enjoyed hanging out under the pavilion, talking to people. She loved having good times -going to the beach and going to Mardi-Grad parades and we always had good packed lunches. In later years, when I was able to go on my own to the beach- blacks or colored people were allowed to swim in one section of Lake Pontchartrain near Pontchartrain Beach. By then Lincoln Beach had closed. Little did i know that “Little Woods” would become part of the up scaled New Orleans East and that there would be no Pontchartrain Beach. Did integration and fears of mixing races eventually end the demise of that beach too?

    In the end, racial prejudice was good for neither races. All we have are the good memories of Jim Crow as we did have a good community with one another and we gained a sense of belonging and identity.. I too won some contests or prizes in such things as the Easter “Dress Up Parade”held at the opening season of Lincoln Beach. These were special times but I gained strength in spite of the terribe system of Jim Crow. Strength to step into various places around the world and to enjoy places that are renown for their beauty, history and culture from the Efiel Tower in Paris to Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania- places open to everyone regardless of race and even class.. Segregation and good times at Lincoln Beach taught me to enjoy good times and to enjoy life with my friends and my small family. Thanks Lincoln Beach and thanks grandmother Boutte.. Conchita Frigillana Ndege close

  3. In about 1951, as a 20 year old admirer of traditional New Orleans music, I became close friends with Mr. Emile Barnes, a wonderful clarinetist, and his wonderful family, including his wife, grown granddaughter, and her four young children. On several occasions Mr. Barnes drove us all to Lincoln Beach to enjoy a few hours, where everyone had a fine time. I was white, from the North, but was, if necessary, introduced as family, a “cousin”.

    Nonetheless this story of the Pontchartrain beaches, black and white, is a sad one.

  4. I learned to swim at Lincoln Beach pools with Xavier Univ. Summer Camp run by
    Coach Crow P.E. Professor and his sons…got asked up on stage with Larry McKinley to pull for the child size
    Thunderbird car..of course it was Red…Slade’s
    Esso sponsored… 1950s

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