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Summer resorts: black resort towns are enjoying a renaissance thanks to buppies and their families.

A whiff of crab gumbo, footlongs on the grill, a relaxed game of bid whist and bonfires on the beach - it's just another day in the neighborhood of African-American beachside communities. Generations of African-Americans have been summering by the beach, playing tennis, golf and basketball, doing the bump and watching each other's children grow up.

"You go year after year and there's continuity in the relationships that you develop," says Elizabeth Ramsey, 36, who has spent her summers in the historically black beach colony of Sag Harbor since she was six. Founded by blacks for blacks three or four generations ago, these summer playgrounds grew out of the realities of segregation, and the desire to cut loose and enjoy time off with family.

Some areas declined in popularity after integration; others stayed strong. Today, Sag Harbor and Martha's Vineyard are among those resort towns that are experiencing renewed vitality as African-American baby boomers and their children come home to relax.



"Going to the Vineyard is more than a vacation; it's like a reunion," says Greg Costa, 39, a longtime summer resident and homeowner on Martha's Vineyard.

On the surface "the Vineyard" may seem exclusive, and for good reason. It's isolated from the mainland by a 45-minute ferry ride. Make reservations for the ferry in January to get passage with your car during a weekend in the summer season. Or be prepared to wait in the tailgate party line to go standby. Those lining up by 2 p.m. are at least guaranteed to get over by the last ferry. (Cost: $76 round-trip; call 508-477-8600 for reservations.)

Then, too, the enclave of black doctors, lawyers, judges and entrepreneurs who vacation here know each other, or at least have friends in common. But African-Americans have been vacationing on Martha's Vineyard since the early 1900s when they first started coming over to work for well-to-do whites. "Every black person had on a uniform," remembers Harlem Renaissance writer Dorothy West who, at 80-something, has spent every summer, except one, at the Vineyard. Gradually, black Bostonians began purchasing land.

There are no big hotels, stop lights or crime on the island; that's the beauty of the Vineyard. That and the beaches. South Beach attracts an active crowd; State Beach in Edgartown attracts families; and Town Beach, a.k.a. "the Inkwell," in Oak Bluffs is now the most popular African-American hangout.

Most visitors stay with someone they know, or rent a house with friends; weekly rentals cost between $900 and $6,000. If you don't know anyone who knows anyone with a house on the Vineyard, call Martha's Vineyard Vacation Rentals at 508-693-7711, the Twin Oaks Inn at 508-693-8633, or Martha's Vineyard Resorts at 508-693-5411.

If you're shopping, stop in at The Carousel Boutique for island fashions and ethnic accessories, and Cousin Rose Gallery for black art and jewelry. For a taste of local fare, try Lobster in the Bluffs or the Black Dog Bakery and Restaurant; then treat yourself to a scoop at Mad Martha's Ice Cream Parlor. Outside of the house-party circuit, nightlife is limited to the clam bars and the Atlantic Connection night club.

"People are very friendly and there's always some black folks around - people who are achievers," adds Costa.



Nestled between Bridgehampton and star-studded East Hampton, Sag Harbor's appeal is its location. Just two and a half hours by car or train from New York City, Sag Harbor has offered a safe, wholesome environment for African-American families since the turn of the century, when blacks first arrived to work in the fishing industry.

Today, the town itself retains the same simple charm of yesteryear. A flourishing African-American colony of about 500 summer residents play in Sag Harbor Hills, Azurest, Ninevah Beach, Chatfield Hills and Hillcrest Terrace. House parties rule and friends of friends are always welcome.

For most, Sag Harbor is more than just a place to spend the summer. "There's a real sense of community here that's very meaningful for me," says year-round resident and real estate broker James Ramsey. "Now my son spends time here and plays with the children of friends I grew up with."

Visitors to Sag Harbor can rent homes for the summer. Monthly rates start around $6,000 (contact Jim Brannen at 516-725-2027). For shorter stays, make reservations two to three weeks in advance at Baron's Cove Inn (516-725-2100), which offers 66 rooms with kitchenettes. Summer weekend rates start at $175; weekday rates start at $115 per night. Or try the top-notch American Hotel (516-725-3535), which has eight air-conditioned antique-furnished rooms. Rates start at $185 per night.

Although there are no black-owned businesses in Sag Harbor, Main Street is lined with boutiques, antique stores and fine restaurants. Paradise Restaurant is the place for breakfast. The Atlantic Ocean is a short drive away, and farms and roadside produce markets abound. Best of all, there's the social ease of vacationing with familiar folk. Adds Ramsey, "It's a place where you can just be yourself."
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Title Annotation:Martha's Vineyard, MA and Sag Harbor, NY
Author:Giles, Dari
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Aug 1, 1994
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