These days, however, she longs for more company.
“I just wish more people would come and enjoy it,” she said as she minded hamburgers on a red brick grill on the small beach. “People’s lives are so different now. Everyone is so busy just trying to pay bills. There is no time to sit around anymore.”
For generations, tiny Highland Beach was a summer haven for affluent black Washingtonians seeking refuge from segregation. Now its residents are struggling to maintain its identify while young people with no memory of Jim Crow lose their connection to what made the community so special.
Taylor started going to Highland Beach more than 40 years ago, when her parents bought a house in Venice Beach, a one-street community that borders Highland Beach and shares its past as an escape from segregation’s indignities.
Highland Beach was founded first — in 1893. Charles Douglass, a son of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, bought the land from a black farmer after he was turned away from a whites-only resort in neighboring Bay Ridge. Giants of African American intellectual life spent time at Highland Beach, including Paul Robeson, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar.
For decades, the town had no sewer system and the roads were unpaved. The beach was barely longer than two city blocks. But it offered something no four-star resort could: a vacation from racism.
When Taylor’s mother, a teacher, and her father, a small-business owner, bought the family’s cream-colored Cape Cod on Chesapeake Avenue, they envisioned filling it with children and grandchildren. Taylor, a Prince George’s County property standards inspector who lives in Southern Maryland, still divvies time up at the house with her siblings and cousins.
On that recent Sunday, despite a steady light drizzle, her husband, Frank Taylor, was firmly planted at the end of Highland Beach’s narrow pier, catching perch with his daughter Calandra Taylor, 32. Calandra’s children, who normally spend their weekends back home in Upper Marlboro, playing football or attending dance classes, bounced between a playground and the water until a discovery on the beach sent them running toward their grandmother.
“It’s a fish!” Jada Weems, 7, shrieked.
Over a chorus of “Eews,” Khaleem Washington, 10, produced a dead fish draped on a stick.
“You would pick that up,” Taylor said, her eyes resting on a gaping hole next to the gills. “We’re not cooking that.”
The boy tossed the reject onto the sand. There was no one to complain. The kids had the beach to themselves, which is perhaps the most noticeable difference to old-timers.