Rolling on the river: Seg­re­gated steam­boats once took tourists to seg­re­gated re­sorts.

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - John Kelly’s Wash­ing­ton john.kelly@wash­ Twit­ter: @johnkelly For pre­vi­ous col­umns, visit wash­ing­ton­

It is pos­si­ble that no one is hap­pier than Fair­fax’s

Dave Sul­li­van that steam­boats once plied the Po­tomac River and the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, the sub­ject of last week’s An­swer Man col­umn. Dave’s par­ents, Ruth and

Joseph, were among those drawn to Wash­ing­ton by gov­ern­ment jobs af­ter World War II: Ruth with the Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment, Joseph with the Army Map Ser­vice.

There was also an­other bit of busi­ness they were at­tend­ing to, though un­suc­cess­fully at first.

“A doc­tor told them that they were try­ing too hard,” Dave wrote. “He sug­gested that they needed to re­lax, just get away for a few days and see what hap­pened.”

And so over the 1948 Fourth of July hol­i­day, the cou­ple trav­eled by boat from Wash­ing­ton to Nor­folk.

“Well, the doc­tor’s ad­vice was ap­par­ently just what my par­ents needed,” Dave wrote. Nine months and four days later, he was born at Doc­tors Hospi­tal.

No steam­boat, no Dave? Who can say? Like all good An­napoli­tans,

Bill Schneider has a sail­boat. He’s also into tra­di­tional jazz and Dix­ieland mu­sic, with a house full of old phono­graph records and wax cylin­ders. His fa­vorite Edi­son cylin­der is “Sail­ing Down the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay,” a jaunty 1913 tune about the Old Do­min­ion Line ves­sels that sailed be­tween Bal­ti­more and Vir­ginia. “Come on, Nancy, put your best dress on,” goes the cho­rus. “Come on, Nancy, ’fore the steam­boat’s gone.”

Bill pointed out that bands still per­form the song th­ese days, though they elim­i­nate the racist lan­guage of the orig­i­nal. Rather than “dark­ies” hum­ming a good ol’ tune, ban­jos are strum­ming a good ol’ tune.

That raises a ques­tion: Given that the steam­boats in ques­tion plied South­ern wa­ters, how were African Amer­i­cans treated?

Just about how you’d ex­pect. East­ern Shore jour­nal­ist and steam­boat buff Jack Shaum said that the printed deck plans of some Ch­e­sa­peake Bay steam­ers showed ac­com­mo­da­tions for “col­ored” pas­sen­gers.

In ad­di­tion to the steam­boats that trav­eled longer dis­tances in the bay — link­ing ci­ties such as Bal­ti­more, Wash­ing­ton and Nor­folk — there were ex­cur­sion steam­boats that took pas­sen­gers on day trips. Th­ese too were sep­a­rated by race, both the ves­sels and the re­sorts to which they sailed.

“There was this whole par­al­lel seg­re­gated amuse­ment trade,” said An­drew Kahrl, a pro­fes­sor of his­tory and African Amer­i­can stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia and author of “The Land Was Ours: African Amer­i­can Beaches From Jim Crow to the Sun­belt South.”

Not at first, though. In the late 19th cen­tury, the seg­re­ga­tion was not quite so ab­so­lute. While the races didn’t mix in the same places at the same times, some re­sorts had days des­ig­nated for African Amer­i­can tourists. Mar­shall Hall, across the river from Mount Ver­non, was one of those. Boats trav­eled there from the Sev­enth Street Wharf, some­times car­ry­ing white pas­sen­gers, some­times black.

But at­ti­tudes hard­ened af­ter the turn of the cen­tury. Mar­shall Hall be­came whites only. So did Mount Ver­non. In 1904, the Ladies’ As­so­ci­a­tion that ran Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton’s plantation home de­creed that only the Charles Ma­calester, a steam­boat that catered ex­clu­sively to white ex­cur­sion­ists, could use its wharf.

White steam­boat own­ers were happy to make money from black tourists, of­fer­ing black­only cruises to black-only beaches and pic­nick­ing grounds.

“African Amer­i­can busi­ness­men tried to break into this industry by buy­ing their own steam­boats or rent­ing out or leas­ing their own land­ing spots along the Po­tomac,” An­drew said. The most suc­cess­ful was

Lewis Jefferson ,an en­trepreneur who had sub­stan­tial land hold­ings in South­west Wash­ing­ton. In 1904, he pur­chased a side-wheeler, the Jane Mose­ley, and in­creased his stake in an amuse­ment park in Prince Ge­orge’s County called Not­ley Hall.

“This was a re­sort that was orig­i­nally owned by a white fam­ily that would lease out its grounds pe­ri­od­i­cally to African Amer­i­cans,” An­drew said. “Even­tu­ally, it be­came al­most ex­clu­sively for African Amer­i­can ex­cur­sion par­ties.”

Jefferson made im­prove­ments and changed the name to Wash­ing­ton Park. It boasted a carousel, a penny ar­cade, a bil­liard hall, a restau­rant, and a 5- and 10-cent theater. An­other steam­boat, the River Queen, also served the re­sort.

In a 2008 Jour­nal of Amer­i­can His­tory ar­ti­cle, An­drew quotes an ad­ver­tise­ment for Jefferson’s park: “If the col­ored men and women of this city are in­clined to pa­tron­ize nearby re­sorts, why not pa­tron­ize one con­ducted by a mem­ber of their own race, rather than one con­ducted by a white man, a Jim Crow ar­range­ment . . . with its sep­a­rate wharf ?”

An­drew said that Wash­ing­ton Park burned down around 1917. To­day, nearly a cen­tury later, all sorts of tourists gather not far from where it once stood: Na­tional Har­bor.


Mount Ver­non did not al­low steam­boats car­ry­ing black pas­sen­gers to use its wharf, seen here in the 1930s.

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