At the very end of Jefferson Avenue in Newport News is a diamond. A place that shined with great spiritual hope for African-Americans during segregation. Pinkett’s Beach at King-Lincoln Park was one of few places black people could go and enjoy the water on a hot summer’s day. This humble stretch of sand has been greatly ignored once when the larger and more scenic beaches were open to everyone. On a visit to the park, I had a chance to see and ponder the renewal of the past and present.
Pickett’s beach was doomed to be abandoned as a popular swimming destination. It’s size and that of the park pales in comparison to Buckroe in nearby Hampton. Virginia Beach offers a plethora of amusements and restaurants as opposed to the east end’s industrial buildings and housing projects. Even Norfolk’s Ocean View has a larger pier and has the view of the broad Chesapeake Bay without the unsightly structures at the naval shipyard across Hampton Roads. So, why do I think this is a place worth vising?
Most early black churches did not have baptismal pools inside of the building. There didn’t seem to be much of a need in many places in eastern Virginia as there were plenty of bodies of water for the sacrament. Congregations in downtown and the east end of Newport News made use of Pinkett’s Beach at Lincoln Park. A couple of Pentecostal denominations, notably Daddy Grace’s United House of Prayer for All People, would have parades of believers marching down to the shoreline for first time baptisms and annual spiritual cleansings. An Orthodox equivalent of such can be seen at an Ethiopian Temket celebration where boys and men would jump into the water in celebration of our Lord’s baptism. Also, a Greek tradition of Theophany is where a cross is thrown in the water and retrieved by one of the men in the community. Some entire congregations of Russians, men and women, will plunge into and icy pond or lake that has been blessed by a clergyman for the great feast day. My visiting here honors the Afro-American past that has some resemblance to ancient Christianity.
Since the beach is no longer a place of massive gatherings, the (albeit small) sand dunes have sprung back with grasses and shrubs. I saw holes that, at first, I thought were made by anglers who tried their luck from the shore. Further investigation showed that they were dug out by ghost crabs. This is the northern most place I had seen evidence of them, and I have spent plenty of time in wilder places such as Bethel Beach in Mathews and Northumberland’s Hughlett’s Point. There was no shortage of small fish swimming amongst the waves of very clear water. To top off my enjoyment of this resurgent little haven of nature, I picked up a whelk shell that contained a live hermit crab. Like any other shoreline, there was litter. But, I found more sand smoothed sea glass than recent bottles. There are more secluded and urban beaches that have far greater trash problems that what I have seen at Pickett’s.
I met a local woman who was cutting a small path along the pier entrance to the beach. What she was doing was probably not ecologically sound nor in compliance with official park policy. But, she wanted to make things a little easier for visitors to make their way down to the beach. Someone cares to bring the resource to the people. She may not be a ranger. But, she understood the basic definition of park interpretation. Perhaps, also, the mission of ministry.