How black land became white sand: The racial erosion of the U.S. coasts


An unidentified couple lounging on Bay Shore Beach, outside Hampton, Virginia.Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke UniversityA couple lounging on Bay Shore Beach, outside Hampton, Va. The property behind them is now a high-end subdivision. The beach is restricted to residents.

In 1910, less than 50 years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, African Americans owned over 15 million acres in the former slave-holding states. Much of that black-owned property was on the coasts, the geographic margins of the nation, which at the time were some of the most undesirable areas for living or leisure.

That was before the Army Corps of Engineers came along to convert those coastline areas into “flood protection” zones, and beaches. The Corps dumped over 7 million cubic yards of sand in Mississippi to create “the longest manmade beach in the world,” but not for all to enjoy. When the federal government brought the sand to the beach, and a highway…

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