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Jun 17, 2019 6:56 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Historic African-American Summer Communities In Sag Harbor Could Receive National Recognition

A family on the beach in Sag Harbor circa 1959. COURTESY DONNAMARIE BARNES ARCHIVE
Jun 18, 2019 2:24 PM

During the 1940s and 1950s, a handful of African-American families began purchasing and building homes in Sag Harbor Hills, Azurest and Ninevah, three Sag Harbor neighborhoods collectively known as SANS.

The SANS neighborhoods were among the very few beach communities on the East Coast founded by African-Americans, and are some of the last historic African-American beachfront communities remaining in the United States today.

In March, the neighborhoods—founded following World War II, serving primarily as summer retreats for middle-class African-American families during the Jim Crow era—were added to the New York State Register of Historic Places by the State Board for Historic Preservation, a move to help protect the rich history of the communities.

Now, SANS could be on track to be recognized on a national level.

On Monday, in a letter to David Bernhardt, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand called on the National Park Service to place the SANS Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

The requested designation would expand opportunities for federal historic tax credits and other resources to help preserve the SANS Historic District, which in recent years has been besieged by redevelopment. About 20 of the original families still maintain homes in the area today, but increasing property values throughout Sag Harbor have led to increased development, threatening to undermine the historical character of the community, displace residents, and prevent the continued discovery of historically significant locations.

According to Ms. Gillibrand’s letter to the interior secretary, including SANS on the National Register would create awareness of its historical significance, helping to ensure the neighborhoods’ continued protection.

When Jim Crow laws left few recreational options for African-Americans, the founding residents created the communities on underdeveloped land at the outskirts of Sag Harbor Village—today totaling more than 300 houses. The summer houses gave black Americans a place of their own.

A study conducted by the State Office of Parks and Recreation showed that two African-American sisters, Maude Terry and Amaza Lee Meredith, were largely responsible for the creation of Azurest. Maude Terry, who vacationed at a rented cottage in Sag Harbor’s Eastville neighborhood, envisioned a new private summer community designed for black families on an undeveloped 20-acre parcel between Hampton Street and Gardiners Bay.

Ms. Terry reached out to the property’s owner and they agreed on a plan to subdivide the parcel in partnership. Their descendants, members of the Richards family, still live in what many say may be the first home constructed in Azurest, the Terry Cottage.

“The Sag Harbor Hills, Azurest, and Ninevah Beach communities thrived as safe havens and retreats for African-American families during a time of institutionalized racism, when African-American families were excluded from so many other places,” Ms. Gillibrand said in the statement on Monday. “As one of the last remaining African-American beachfront communities in the country, the SANS Historic District holds important historic value that must be protected.”

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