Mary Ellen Strom, Carson Beach.


Rights Along the Shore

BCA Spring 2021 Public Artist Residency and Spring 2022 Mills Gallery Exhibition project

Mary Ellen Strom and Danielle Abrams


Rights Along the Shore is temporary public artwork by artists Danielle Abrams and Mary Ellen Strom, being developed to take place at Carson Beach in South Boston in Spring 2022. This research-based art project will engage with individuals and partner organizations in Boston to put forward unexamined narratives of this location’s history and current use as a recreational and cultural site. Rights Along the Shore follows the trajectory of Abrams’ and Strom’s artworks that employ participatory practices to examine recreational segregation in the South and de-facto segregation in the North.  Their long-term commitment to this subject is evidenced through projects located in New Orleans’ Lincoln Beach, Tuckerman Creek in Bozeman, Montana, and the forthcoming project at Anacostia pool in Washington DC. The outdoor artwork to be sited at Carson Beach will feature performance works on the beach and in the pavilions.   Large-scale video projections will be integrated into the site’s architecture. 

This public artwork is part of a series of projects by Abrams and Strom that re-examines the history/ies of segregated swimming sites and the lived experiences of the people that participated in the sites’ recreation, riots and advocacy for de-segregation.  The post-World War II civil rights movement frequently targeted segregated urban leisure venues, provoking violent reactions and even riots from recalcitrant, racist whites.  During this period, Black activists who attempted to integrate segregated pools, beaches and other public recreational facilities in the United States were met with violent resistance.  Pools and beaches were contentious sites because their desegregation resulted in the direct mixing of Black and white bodies. 

Boston’s Carson Beach was a site of violent, racial conflict during August of 1975. During the second two weeks of August, protests and clashes erupted in anticipation of South Boston’s September school busing.  On August 10, a Black “wade-in” at Carson Beach resulted in numerous injuries from rock throwing and baseball bats, along with violence committed by police intervention.  The historic incident is chronicled through contradictory newspaper articles, City of Boston reports, in local and national archives. 

Rights Along the Shore will unambiguously address the deep healing work that needs to be done in this public space; trauma caused by land stolen by white settlers from Indigenous peoples, trauma caused by racial violence committed to the Black residents of South Boston and trauma inflicted on the land and water by white settler industries.   Rights Along the Shore is a reckoning with the history of white supremacy in South Boston in an era in which Black, Brown, Indigenous, and communities of color have galvanized the most important anti-racist activist movement since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  There is powerful momentum given to us through the grace of Black Lives Matter.  There is great responsibility to act, because of the countless, tragic causalities and violence perpetrated on Black bodies by law enforcement in the United States. 

The legacy of police violence in Boston and violence caused by white supremacists is an important history that needs to be told at this extraordinary moment.  The project Rights Along the Shore strives to honor Carson Beach and the history/ies and stories it holds.  BCA supports Strom and Abrams’ research and development of this project through its Spring 2021 Public Artist Residency, and through its innovative use of its Mills Gallery exhibition program during Spring 2022, where the artists will organize a panel and a series of workshops based on this critical topic of “who has access” to public recreational space.

Abrams’ and Strom’s project will be produced with ethics of community engagement practices.  The artists have begun developing relationships with partner organizations including the South Boston Neighborhood House, South Boston Community Health Center, South Boston Neighborhood Development Center and Olmsted Now. The artists’ method of collaborative inquiry brings community members together from diverse backgrounds and disciplines to build this artwork from the ground up based on the participants’ different perspectives. Before beginning the project, rules of engagement will be put forward and agreed upon.  Dialogues will be facilitated addressing race, gender, class and cultural differences. Care-ethics about each other and the land will be established.  Within this process, relationships of power and privilege will be exposed and examined. 

The artists chose Carson Beach because it is an important, historic site that tells the story of recreational segregation in the Northern United States.  Massachusetts’ official narrative erases the numerous sites of historic recreational segregation in the state, although de-facto segregation was and continues to be held in place by state laws.  Today, more than ever people of color, people with disabilities, queer and trans people and women need access to safe public spaces and natural environments to heal from societal trauma, to keep their bodies healthy and to experience relaxation. 

GEORGE RIZER, GLOBE STAFF/THE BOSTON GLOBE, Mounted police dispersed crowds on Carson Beach in South Boston on Aug. 10, 1975, when a peaceful demonstration by Black residents asserting their right to use the beach devolved into a violent melee.