RECREATION

Playing Baseball Behind James City County Training School

Boys playing baseball in Potts Field behind James City County Training School, Williamsburg, Va., circa 1938. Mount Ararat Baptist Church on Franklin Street is visible in the background. Photo by Albert W. Durant.

 

            During the era of segregation, African Americans created their own recreational facilities where they could relax and unwind without a cloud of prejudice hanging over them. In the Williamsburg area, this encompassed school grounds and buildings, church social halls, outdoor parks near African American neighborhoods, and African American-owned restaurants and nightclubs.

              At school playgrounds and gyms, students and adults could practice softball, baseball, football, and basketball.  Durant’s photos capture a wide variety of school sporting events, ranging from the Bruton Heights football players during Homecoming games to group shots of girls’ basketball teams and cheerleading squads. Two photos featured in this section show boys and girls playing baseball and softball in Potts Field adjacent to James City County Training School in the late 1930s. Both photos are interesting not only for their observance of students at play, but also for their recording of the African American neighborhood that used to stretch from the corner of Nicholson and Botetourt streets north towards the railroad tracks (see Education section). James City County Training School, Union Baptist Church, Mount Ararat Baptist Church, and a residential area are all visible in the backgrounds of the images.

 

Girls' P.E. Class, James City County Training School

Girls' physical education class playing in Potts Field beside James City County Training School, Williamsburg, Va., April 25, 1937. Union Baptist Church and an African American neighborhood at the intersection of Franklin and Botetourt Streets are visible in the background. Photo by Albert W. Durant.

 

 

Jaycees Jamboree

Jaycees Jamboree, Williamsburg,Va., circa 1950s. Photo by Albert W. Durant.

 

            Temporary amusement parks offered another recreational outlet for African Americans in the Williamsburg area. Local organizations, such as the Jaycees, held annual fairs or “jamborees” that families could attend. Several of Durant’s photos show children enjoying amusement park rides at such an event. While the exact location of the jamborees is not known, Williamsburg residents recall a recreational area adjacent to the Gospel Spreading Church Farm, located near Jamestown along the Colonial Parkway.[1]


 

Souvenir Photo from Log Cabin Beach

Souvenir photo of a teenage girl posing on a picnic table at Log Cabin Beach, a segregated swimming beach and fellowship hall located on the James River just outside of Williamsburg, Va., circa 1950s. Photo by Albert W. Durant.

 

            Log Cabin Beach, once located on the James River at the end of what is today known as Ron Springs Road in Grove, served as a segregated swimming beach and recreational area for African Americans in the Williamsburg area. A pleasant beach area with picnic tables and shade trees offered a place to swim, picnic, and socialize during the summer months.  Albert Durant regularly took souvenir photos of family members as mementoes of their visit, and these capture the light-hearted moments spent lazing away an afternoon along the James River.

 

 

           The “cabin” part of the facility, a large social hall built to resemble a log cabin, managed by Cornelius Palmer, gradually became a destination for performers on the Chitlin Circuit. Many well-known musicians, including Fats Domino, Ruth Brown, and Little Richard, gave concerts at Log Cabin Beach during the 1950s and attracted residents from many surrounding communities. Local African American community and church groups also made use of the cabin for dinners and meetings, as documented in some of Durant’s photos of the fellowship hall.

 


[1] In 1936 and 1943, radio and TV evangelist Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux purchased land on the James River where he established the James City County Bible and Agriculture Training School Farm (known as Gospel Spreading Church Farm) and a park as part of the National Memorial to the Progress of the Colored Race in America (John Turner, “Three Hundred Years of Faith,” in Williamsburg, Virginia: A City Before the State, ed. Robert P. Maccubbin [Williamsburg, Va,: City of Williamsburg, 2000], 117-18; M. O. Smith, “The Gospel Farm on the Parkway,” Williamsburg Reunion 2008: 1968 and Before [privately printed by the Williamsburg Reunion Committee (2008)], [8-9]; The Church of God at Williamsburg, “The Acts of Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux,” accessed 5 May 2014, http://www.thechurchofgodatwilliamsburg.org/eldermichaux).