Beach Segregation: Santa Monica’s Not-So-Sunny Past

The year is 1950.

There is no internet.
There are no cell phones.

There are, however, segregated schools, swimming pools and drinking fountains.  There are even segregated beaches; non-whites on a small portion of the beach and whites only free to enjoy all of the rest.

Contrary to popular belief, this shameful piece of history was not only prevalent in the notorious South; California, often associated with being one of the most progressive states in history, also took part in segregating their beaches for a time.

Back in the early and middle years of the 20th Century, Santa Monica, like many other beach towns and cities in the United States, had segregated beaches.

According to an article in LA Observed, the “Ink Well”, located at Ocean Front Walk between Bay Street and Bicknell, was one of the only beaches where non-whites could enjoy a peaceful day of sun, surf and sand until the late 1960’s.

It has been reported that after local politicians strategically evicted and intentionally closed a popular beach resort open to non-whites in Manhattan Beach, followed by many other cases of racial tension, the black community was finally able to congregate without harassment on this small stretch of beach in Santa Monica.

The beach, which would later come to be known throughout all communities as the “Ink Well”, was undesirable; it was polluted and located on the same grounds as an unsightlyabandoned swimming pool.

One may say, however, that the silver lining from this shameful piece of Southern California history would be that the Ink Well served as the home base for pioneering African American surfer, Nick Gabaldon.

Mr. Gabaldon was a regular at the Ink Well but would often paddle twelve miles north to surf the better waves of Malibu without persecution for standing on a whites-only beach.

In doing so, Gabaldon defied the ignorant conventions of American society that, in his day, prevented many blacks from accessing the ocean, swimming pools and beaches through a variety of latently racist legislation encouraged by Jim Crow laws.  Sadly, these laws were not formally dismantled until 14 years after Nick’s accidental, surf-related death when Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Thanks in large part to surfer Rhonda Harper, in 2008 the Santa Monica Conservancy and Calvary Baptist Church co-hosted the “African Americans and the Beach” program to celebrate the dedication of a commemorative plaque to honor Nick’s accomplishments and officially recognize the area’s significance.

You can watch the full inspirational video, 12 Miles North, HERE.  More historical photos of people at Ink Well beach can be found HERE.