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New museum exhibit showcases African-American beaches

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An original table and benches from the restaurant of the former Chowan Beach area welcome visitors to Museum of the Albemarle on Friday.

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Unless you’re of a certain age, the names Chowan Beach, Bias Beach and Bogues Beach probably don’t ring a bell.

But if you were an African-American growing up in the region in the early and middle parts of the 20th century, they were the beaches you frequented because of segregation. 

Museum of the Albemarle will unveil an exhibit on Monday showcasing the region’s history of African-American beaches.

The exhibit, known as “Memorable Sands,” features images from African-American beaches in the region, including Chowan Beach in Hertford County, Bias and Hargraves Beaches in Currituck County, Bogues Beach was located on the Little River in the Nixonton area of Pasquotank County, and Seaview Beach in Virginia. It will remain on exhibit through Nov. 11.

Jessica Cosmas, collections specialist at Museum of the Albemarle, explained that a table and benches set up in the lobby are from what was the restaurant area at Chowan Beach.

Chowan Beach was located on the Chowan River near Winton in Hertford County. Development of a beach area at Chowan Beach began in the 1920s but it really took off when Sam Pillmon of Ahoskie bought in in 1967 and made numerous improvements. The area included a snack bar, dance hall, duck pond and sandy beach.

Legendary rhythm and blues and rock and roll artists performed at Chowan Beach in its heyday, including Sam Cooke, James Brown, B.B. King and The Coasters.

Hurricane Floyd washed out the beach at Chowan Beach in 1999, which effectively brought the beach to an end. But Cosmas noted attendance at Chowan Beach had been dwindling throughout the 1980s, partly because of other amusements that became available in the region such as Kings Dominion in the Richmond, Va., area.

One of the photos in the exhibit depicts R.L. “Bobby” Vaughan, a longtime coach and professor at Elizabeth City State University, working as a lifeguard at Seaview Beach on the Chesapeake Bay in 1949.

Eyricka Johnson, a rising senior at ECSU who is majoring in history and is working this summer as an intern at Museum of the Albemarle, said the photo of Vaughan was especially interesting to her because he was her mother’s swim instructor at ECSU.

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