Observations, Photos

The Chitlin’ Circuit

This photo shows remnants of an old black-owned hotel on US 17 near Litchfield Beach, SC.  The story goes that it was built in the late 40s by deccendents of rice plantation slaves who came into possession of the land as compensation from the plantation owners after emancipation. During the 50s, it became a popular overnite stopping point for black bands and entertainers playing the Chitlin’ Circuit — the name given to venues up and down the East Coast and throughout the South where it was safe for black musicians to perform during the era of racial segregation.

US 17 was a principal north-south highway at the time, before the interstates, of course, and there were probably few establishments catering to blacks along the way. Black entertainers would perform there and draw large crowds and included many well known stars of the time such as Count Basie.

The facility also included a restaurant and a boardwalk across the marsh over to the ocean front on South Litchfield Beach. Locals were charged a modest fee to cross the marsh and enjoy the beach, which is undevelopable because of tidal flooding.  The property was  almost completely destroyed  during Hurricane Donna in 1960 and the motel never reopened. The property and remains of parts of the facility lay  dormant for almost 50 years before recent efforts to do something with the site.

The South Litchfield Beach area for many years drew black folk and was called Magnolia Beach. Certainly the motel and causeway to the beach  was the impetus.

I went in search of similar remains over in Oak Orchard, DE, where the Indian River flows into Rehoboth Bay.   I’ve read there used to be a place called the Rosedale Beach Hotel that was a stop on the Chitlin’ Circuit too.

In its pre-60s heyday, Rosedale Beach had a little boardwalk, a hotel, and a dance hall where performers like Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown performed. White Sussex Countians often anchored their boats offshore to listen to the music.  Unfortunately, there are no remains of Rosedale, not even a marker.

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