I was so happy when I stumbled across “On today in New Orleans,” but I was disappointed when I couldn’t find any photographs of Lincoln Beach. No less, I am happy to share the story of Lincoln Beach with yall.
May 25, 1939
The Beginning of Lincoln Beach
Lincoln Beach was located in the Little Woods neighborhood of New Orleans East. The quarter-mile stretch of sand along the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain known as Lincoln Beach was deeded to the city by Samuel Zemurray in 1938 and purchased within a year by the Orleans Levee Board which designated it as a swimming area for “colored” New Orleanians.
Founded in 1939, Lincoln Beach and opened to the black public in 1941 the beach was one of the few places where black residents could find relief from the New Orleans summer heat. During the Jim Crow era, it was built to provide a spot for Black families who were prohibited — often violently — from swimming in other parts of the lake and forbidden from enjoying the more lavishly equipped, whites-only Pontchartrain Beach amusement park.
Twelve years later, the Levee Board began improvements at the racially segregated Hayne Boulevard swimming spot at the cost of $500,000. Lincoln Beach formally reopened on June 29, 1955, as “an amusement playground resort for the Negro community of New Orleans.”
In April 1957, Lincoln Beach was selected as the annual Negro State Fair site, which highlighted education and culture. During the mid-1950s and early 1960s became a vacation destination for black families living under the oppression of segregation. New rides sprang up on the midway, and the park hosted concerts by such popular acts as the Ink Spots and local favorites Fats Domino and Earl King “Papa” Celestin, and many many more.
By the early 1960s, swimming in the lake was prohibited at both Pontchartrain and Lincoln Beach. Lincoln Beach closed in 1964 after a court order banning segregated public facilities conflicted with the Lincoln Beach lease, which required it to operate as a “Negro” facility.
Before the Civil Rights movement integrated public areas and facilities, the Lincoln Beach section of Lake Pontchartrain was one of the few entertainment and recreation areas for African-Americans.
May 25, 2021
New Orleans for Lincoln Beach hopes to reopen Lincoln Beach
Since the closure of Lincoln beach in 1963, there’s hope that Lincoln Beach will once again be a place for future generations to create memories, thanks to a group of cultural bearers who founded New Orleans for Lincoln Beach Foundation.
New Orleans for Lincoln Beach Foundation was founded last year by New Orleans residents passionate about the historical significance of Lincoln Beach. They are committed to ensuring that when Lincoln Beach reopens, it will continue to be a sanctuary for the people of New Orleans.
Last year, New Orleans for Lincoln Beach received its 501©3 nonprofit status, and its private Facebook page, which was created in June, has over 7,000 members.
On its New Orleans for Lincoln Beach Facebook page, the group’s administrator recently asked: “In your own words, please share why Lincoln Beach is important to you and the community,” and several people posted heartfelt comments.
“Lincoln Beach is an important legacy of our history and has become a story of diversity and unity across cultural lines,” Butchie Beverly wrote on the Facebook page. “It is an ecological gem, one of the few (places to) access the waters that surround us. It has been and continues to be an economical gathering space for family recreation and community. It has great potential to serve as true economic development and commerce through entrepreneurship and an incubator for young small businesses. The revitalization and reopening of the beach to the public is an exercise in empowering the citizenry to require government act upon the will, vision and values they wish their communities to reflect.”
May of 2020, Michael “Sage Michael” Pellet and Tricia “Blyss” Wallace launched an internal team to explore the process of developing pedestrianization concepts for Lincoln Beach.
New Orleans for Lincoln Beach volunteers has been cleaning up the site without city permission, collecting more than 300 contractor bags full of litter. Though they were trespassing, co-founder “Sage Michael” said the volunteers just couldn’t stand to see the area trashed. “We’re not trying to alienate the city, but we want to hold them accountable,” he said.
Reggie Ford, a well on New Orleans artist, and member of New Orleans for Lincoln Beach, took his chances and spent some of his own money to jumpstart the restoration of Lincoln Beach.
Ford told Fox 8, “My goal is to keep this for the people, keep this property under the possession of New Orleans and help develop it.”
Thanks to the efforts of the volunteers two long stretches of sand along Lake Pontchartrain are clean and flourishing again. So much so that there has a substantial rise in outdoor activities in the area of the beach.
New Orleans for Lincoln Beach hopes that the City of New Orleans responds transparently to the needs of New Orleans by not selling it to a private developer. Work directly with New Orleans For Lincoln Beach Foundation on the plans of officially opening Lincoln Beach, prioritizing people of color in the economic benefits throughout the open process. And to open formally and designate Lincoln Beach as a Public Park and Green Space, accessible to all.
We continue to struggle with the city for recreational and environmental equality decades after people such as Nolan McNeal, a former slave, and minister who became a captain in the Volunteers of America and a leader of religious, social work, fought for it at the turn of the 20th century. Our ancestors endured and pressed on for us to experience Lincoln Beach. To be a native New Orleanian is to have our legacy, culture, and tradition tied to a physical space, such as Congo Square, Hunter’s Field, the neutral ground, and so on. Lincoln Beach is part of that. We deserve to celebrate the love and continuation of the family at Lincoln Beach. Its closure changed not only outdoor fun for the Black family but the celebration of nature. We deserve to have our bodies and souls baptized in waters that our ancestors blessed. We deserve to sit under the trees, lay on their roots to hear the stories of not so long ago. We deserve all this and more. Here we are in 2021, still fighting for our rights to our share of milk and honey.
City officials recognize Lincoln Beach’s historical importance. If Lincoln Beach can be reopened, city officials hope to pay tribute to that history and salvage as much of the original architecture as possible.
The city-states that Lincoln Beach is closed to the public and that there is no property right now.
It’s said that Lincoln Beach will include reminders of its past and its place in the political and social upheavals that transformed New Orleans and the South in its new incarnation.
New Orleans for Lincoln Beach
New Orleans for Lincoln Beach Foundation’s mission is to work directly with the City of New Orleans to open and develop Lincoln Beach and dedicate it to the community of New Orleans and as a safe, clean and natural healing space to connect with nature
Provide economic, environmental, and educational opportunities for New Orleans natives.
Open and create safe and accessible entryways.
Provide safe recreational outdoor waterways for families and community members.
Provide a natural therapeutic and healing space to support mental wellness.
Protect environmental coastal plant life.
Create a marketplace and community garden.
Prioritize green-friendly living.
My memories and thoughts of Lincoln Beach
As a little girl, I would hear all the fantastic stories about “Lincoln Beach and Jazzland to the point I made them my own. If you had asked me some years if I remember Lincoln Beach, I would have said yes and would have given you a blow-by-blow account of what I remembered. I told a story so convincing that I believe it myself. But how did I create this facade? I used to wonder myself until it was made clear. It was the incredible storytelling of my Elders. My family celebrated just about anything at the lakefront when I was younger, and it was during those times, I heard the stories of Lincoln Park. They would all tell of times of the good ole days at the beach and the not so good that it all found a place in my memory. As much as they loved Lincoln Beach with its cool waters, concerts, roller coaster, and restaurant, some things scared them. Some stories were too heartbreaking and scary for my young mind, and it caused me to fear water for years. Racism was very real.
As a teen, I went on dates to the Lakefront and the abandoned Jazzland as I had with my older teenaged cousins, who were forced to bring me along as the third wheel until I was old enough to go on dates myself. I, too, had to bring a younger sibling or cousin along. But as a child with nothing but her imagination, I would recreate their stories in my mind while the teens entertained themselves. I often found myself sadly wondering why would was Lincoln Beach left in ruins. It was not only a sore eye but a tease in the distance telling me I was not worthy of having access to such a great place.
Today, I wonder had it been open, how life would have been different for me, us. Had we had access to Lincoln Beach and the amusement park, we wouldn’t have had time to drink, smoke, and have sex. We like the kids today who are committing crimes are doing so because they are bored. There is nothing for these kids to do. New Orleans is an adults-only playground, and if we do not change this juvenile narrative, crime will only worsen. We need Lincoln beach and more recreational activities for the children of New Orleans.
- While the white-only Pontchartrain Beach had the better rides, Lincoln Beach had by far the better musical acts. Among the notable acts to perform there over the years were Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, Josephine Baker, the Ink Spots, Little Richard, Ike and Tina Turner, and Guitar Slim.
- Talent shows and beauty contests sponsored by local radio stations were also among the live entertainment offered at the park.
- The main swimming pool at Lincoln Beach was named after Nolan McNeal, a former slave and minister who became a captain in the Volunteers of America and a leader of religious social work at the turn of the 20th century.
- Coupons for free rides at Lincoln Beach were distributed inside packages of Sunbeam Bread. Various candy companies also arranged to have wrappers from their products exchanged for free admission to the park.
- The dedication of the new Lincoln Beach was held on May 8, 1954, and was attended by Gov. Robert F. Kennon and Mayor deLesseps Morrison. The Booker T. Washington High School band provided music.
- For years after the park closed, local residents — white and black alike — would make their way through the dilapidated amusement area to spend time on the still-sandy beach.