“A Place of Celebration and Pain” tops the plaque that commemorates the oceanfront site controversially known as the “Inkwell,” an important gathering place for African Americans long after racial restriction attempts at public beaches were abandoned in 1927.
This seaside refuge was located down the hill from nearby Phillips Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church, the first African American church established in Santa Monica in 1905, and the earliest African American community settlement in the 4th and Bay Streets vicinity.
For leisure activities from the 1920s to the early 1960s, African Americans were able to locate some places where they were relatively free from bigotry to enjoy themselves and take pleasure in the picturesque outdoor offerings of the state. At this time discrimination and restrictive real estate covenants prevented them from buying property in certain areas and from using various public or private facilities.
In 1922 the Santa Monica Bay Protective League attempted to purge African Americans from the city’s shoreline by blocking the effort by the Ocean Frontage Syndicate, an African American investment group led by Norman O. Houston and Charles S. Darden, to develop a resort with beach access at the base of Pico Boulevard.
Local African American civil rights leaders reflected the ambivalence of the general black population on the continued existence of the Inkwell. While they appreciated the access to the Pacific Ocean that the beach represented, they also wanted an end to all efforts to inhibit their freedom to use all public beaches.
Black beachgoers suffered personal assaults at public beaches north and south of Santa Monica’s borders. In 1927 legal challenges by the Los Angeles branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) were made when subterfuge measures of racial restrictions were attempted at Manhattan Beach, a few miles south of Santa Monica. As a result of the NAACP’s actions the California Courts upheld the laws put in place from 1893 to 1923 that provided blacks the rights to use any beach in the state.
Yet many African Americans continued to return to the Inkwell for sun and surf recreation into the 1960s. On February 7, 2008 the City of Santa Monica officially recognized the “Inkwell” and Nick Gabaldon, the first documented surfer of African/Mexican American descent, with a landmark monument at Bay Street and Oceanfront Walk.