Highland Beach, Maryland was founded in 1893 by Charles and Laura Douglass. Charles Douglass was the son of prominent abolitionist and 19th century civil rights activist Fredrick Douglass. Major Charles Douglass, however, was prominent in his own right. He was a retired officer formerly with the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry, the famed regiment first established during The American Civil War. Located in Anne Arundel County, 35 miles east of Washington, D.C., and just a few miles south of Annapolis, Highland Beach lies on the shores of Chesapeake Bay.
Highland Beach became the first African American-owned summer resort community. It was established because of racial discrimination. In 1890 Major Douglass and his wife were denied entry into a restaurant at The Bay Ridge Resort on Chesapeake Bay because they were African American. In response Douglass entered the real estate business and began purchasing beachfront property directly south of Bay Ridge. When he acquired slightly more than 40 acres he began developing the property as a summer resort community by selling lots to family and friends.
Douglass also began building a large family summer house which he named Twin Oaks. Intended primarily as a retirement residence for his father, Twin Oaks soon became a gathering place for many influential African Americans who lived in the Washington-Baltimore area but who visited Frederick Douglass there. Although Fredrick Douglass died before he could move permanently into the house, Highland Beach, as the surrounding community was now called, quickly became popular with prominent African Americans. Part-time residents and guests over the years included a who's who of black America including Paul Robeson, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Robert Weaver, and Alex Haley.
Highland Beach became an incorporated municipality of Maryland in 1922, the first African American municipality in the state's history. Charles Douglass claimed his greatest success in establishing Highland Beach was in circumventing restrictive property covenants in the area that prevented the sale of real estate to blacks and other people of color. Originally intended as a summer resort, Highland Beach is now a year round community with many houses and properties still retained by descendents of the original owners.
National Parks Service, African American Historic Places (New York, NY: Wiley & Sons Inc., 1994); Town of Highland Beach Maryland, http://highlandbeachmd.org
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