In the Hamptons and all across the country, African American History is American History. This February, in recognition of African American History Month, Hamptons.com is taking a closer look at the many facets of ways that African Americans have and continue to impact the Hamptons culture.
Behind the iconic whale-adorned entry sign, The Sag Harbor Hills, Azurest, and Niveah Beach Neighborhoods (SANS) is a treasure trove for history, architecture, and Hamptons lovers. The hard-earned history of African Americans in the Hamptons is a critical story explored in depth during a guided walking tour led by East Hampton Trails Preservation Society (EHTPS).
The intersection of the Hamptons as an iconic vacation destination during the civil rights movement is a fascinating testament to the diversity of people who have called the Hamptons home. Did you know that one of the founding architectural visionaries behind SANS was an African-American woman named Amaza Lee Meredith?
If you’ve never been to SANS, it’s such a beautiful place to go for a walk, even when its a little chilly—historic cedar-shake homes dot the quiet streets as they wind and loop, always finding their way bayside with (I think) the best views in Sag Harbor. Despite changes, and owing in part to its protected historical status, SANS is still defined by low, rolling hills dotted with woods and modest, mid-century bungalows built by the first owners.
In the late 1940s Sag Harbor, the sisters Maude Terry and Amaza Lee Meredith had the vision, foresight, and courage to pursue a dream. Upon purchasing land from the Gale family, Azurest was born, the first of the communities that make up SANS, the acronym for Sag Harbor Hills, Azurest, and Ninevah Beach.
An iconic location just east of the old Sag Harbor Village Historic District, African-American families started buying their summer retreats in SANS throughout the 1940s when people of color faced widespread racial segregation, redlining, violence, and discrimination that illegally barred them from the constitutional freedoms enjoyed by Americans, including access to leisure at beaches and resorts.
Driven by the natural allure of the Sag Harbor location, SANS soon became a refuge during the late Jim Crow era, becoming a popular African-American leisure destination and a bastion of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. Prominent black figures like Roscoe C. Brown Jr. (1922–2016), a decorated Tuskegee Airmen pilot, and Edward R. Dudley (1911–2005), a New York State Supreme Court Justice and the first African American U.S. Ambassador, chose to call SANS home. Notable celebrities like Lena Horne, Duke Ellington, and Harry Belafonte were regular guests.
During frequently guided tours, SANS Sag Harbor Organization President Renee Simons speaks passionately about the many extraordinary tales represented in this historic neighborhood, including the foundation, notable homes, and the mission to gain the designation of SANS as a Historic District on Local, State, and National levels.
As African American History Month unfolds, it’s essential to recognize and celebrate the profound impact African Americans have had on the fabric of Hamptons culture. The story of the SANS encapsulates not just the architectural beauty and historical significance of these communities but also the resilience, vision, and influence of African Americans in shaping the Hamptons. From the pioneering efforts of Amaza Lee Meredith and Maude Terry to the celebrated retreats of icons like Lena Horne and Duke Ellington, SANS stands as a testament to a rich, albeit often overlooked, chapter in American history.
This February, let’s embrace the opportunity to explore, learn, and appreciate the indelible contributions of African Americans to the Hamptons and beyond, ensuring their stories are not just remembered but honored. For those looking to dive deeper into this captivating history, the guided walking tours by the East Hampton Trails Preservation Society offer a gateway to the past, present, and future of this iconic enclave.