With summer coming around and COVID-19 travel restrictions loosening all around the country, Americans are eager to return to the great outdoors after a year-long quarantine. Of course, nothing says freedom and summer fun like a trip to the beach. But the role that ocean access plays in our lives is more complicated than just fun in the sun, as beach access in the United States has a dark history and there is a discriminatory side to it that is often overlooked. As part of our belief that beach access is an established right shared by all the public, Surfrider seeks to educate people about the systematic discrimination that has prevented and continues to prevent many Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities from accessing a public resource.

Beach and water access has been historically kept from BIPOC communities, in some instances, through segregation and reinforced through threats of legal punishment or violence. An infamous example of this occurred on the Chicago shores of Lake Michigan in 1919, when white youth gang members stoned a Black teenager named Eugene Williams to death after he had accidentally drifted across a segregation line in the water. This sparked a race riot that lasted seven days and claimed almost forty lives.

A less visible way that systematic discrimination has been perpetuated in U.S. communities comes from the process of redlining. Redlining is a term that describes the systematic denial of various services to residents of specific neighborhoods or communities and is an example of historic discrimination in urban planning that is still felt by many BIPOC communities to this day. Through either a selective raising of prices or discriminatory laws that maintained segregation even after segregation was formally abolished in the 1960s, redlining was used to create unjust conditions against BIPOC communities. This means that, even after discrimination in the form of keeping people from using certain beaches or waterways due to the color of their skin was outlawed, the tools were in place to guarantee that segregation was essentially still in effect in many communities across America.

Read the full article about systematic discrimination in U.S. beach access by Angela Howe at Surfrider Foundation.