We often drive a back way to New Orleans East to visit our family there. Across from the levee there have always been two old signs peaking out from massive overgrowth in a large fenced in lot. The arrows on the sign point into the abyss of foliage. They are remnants of Lincoln Beach. From 1939 to 1965, this was New Orleans beach and amusement park designated for African Americans. It was similar, but smaller, than Pontchartrain Beach which was the whites only beach.
In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act which outlawed racial discrimination and segregation. While Pontchartrain Beach was bigger than Lincoln Beach, it wasn’t welcoming to all. Right after the bill past, the Times-Picayune reported overall crowds at the beach were down, but “as many as 35 Negroes at one time” were there and the pool had been closed. That weekend there were “minor” issues like a boy getting his tires deflated. The next month, the beach ran an ad staying that while they were forced to comply with the civil rights act, they would not lower their standards of cleanliness and enforcement of good behavior. With Pontchartrain Beach “open to all”, the city abandoned taking care of the Lincoln Beach and it quickly fell into disrepair and it closed in 1965.
Now on the levee side, there is a sign on the fence that says Love with an arrow pointing to seemingly nowhere. If you follow the sign by climbing the levee, you can hop the fence and climb down a pallet staircase. After crossing the train tracks there is a path into the woods. About 30 yards in, it opens into paradise- a beautiful beach in New Orleans proper.
Reggie Ford, an artist who needed something to do during quarantine, began cleaning the beach, one trash bag at a time. He also began making furniture out of old pallets. Others have joined him. They honor the past of the beach, remembering both segregation and decades of families having fun on the beach. You can explore the old shelters, see the bases of the massive diving boards, and wade in the clear, clean water.
New Orleans, LA