After a full day, I climbed down a metal ladder from a flat, wooden platform with a thatched roof at 28th. It was a community beach back in ’84, and I knew most of the beach patrons by sight, if not by name. At that time, it was also still mostly an African American beach, as it had been designated either culturally or since the ‘20s.
As I made my way up to the seawall with my bicycle, I stopped to chat with 4 guys around my age or a bit older, one of which had recently graduated from Ball High with me. They were the “evening watch”, and I was never clear if they assigned themselves that role or the neighborhood leaders did. I let them know about things to watch for. As I rode home, I knew the beach was in safe hands, and that at least one of them would stop by the next day and update me on whatever happened after I left.
Years later, I ran down to stop a group of teens from getting caught in a rip current at the same location. An older African American man was already there when I arrived, yelling at them to get away from the rocks. Although he looked strong and fit from a distance, when I approached him, I could see that he was much older than he appeared. Well into his ‘80’s then OC Brown, as he introduced himself, was still full of that fire that lifeguards for life have. He told me he’d worked that beach for years and scolded me that I was a bit slow in responding. He was so impressive, and that event emphasized for me the layers of untold history, much of it involving African Americans, that is woven into our beaches and our island.
To that end, we’ve pulled together a committee that has been working on some really cool stuff, chaired by David Mitchell. The Beach Patrol, NIA Cultural Center, Old Central Cultural Center, Visit Galveston, The Historical Foundation, Galveston Lifeguarding Inc., and others have been working on a multi staged project. Phase 1 was submission of an application for an “Undertold Story” marker on the same spot of the seawall that the “Evening Watch” sat, with the help of the County, City, and a myriad of groups that have thrown in support. The marker will honor the African American Beach and the black lifeguards that worked it.
Phase two will be a data base that profiles African American Lifeguards and black beach history. We’re looking for families and friends who can record stories of these heroes. We are also exploring the possibility of a large, sculptural monument to these lifeguards. The idea is that there will be a way to point your phone at either project and access the data base, and this will be part of a larger cultural tour of the island.
If you or anyone you know would be interesting in recording you or your family’s experience with an African American guard, please contact Alex Thomas at [email protected] or 409-797-5155.