Spending Independence Day on Griffin’s Beach

Published 5:08 pm Monday, July 5, 2021

Milt, our daughter Sonja and I were greatly blessed to attend an outdoor Sunday morning Worship Service on July 4th. It was at Griffin’s Beach hosted by Washington’s Church of The Good Shepherd.

The wonderful sermon was about the freedom we have in Jesus Christ. It was one of those messages that helped guide the congregants into looking at the liberty we have spiritually in Christ Jesus and also focused on the fact that freedom is never free.  There is always a price and sometimes it cost the lives of those who sacrifice so someone else can be free.

After the service was over, I walked over to the water’s edge, took off my sandals and stood ankle deep in the river while remembering that this river was part of Washington’s maritime underground railroad and the role it played in so many people’s quest for freedom.

Standing there, so many memories from my youth came flooding back.  Griffin’s Beach was the heartbeat of the Black community.  On the Fourth of July, hundreds of people came to this beach.

My family, along with many others, would come here on the Fourth and it was like a Black community reunion. My sister Lena and I played in the water with scores of other children. We ate great picnic lunches brought from home and the fried crabs my parents purchased at the beach. It was fun to run among the parked cars to see how many out of state license plates we could find and often it would be easy to spot at least a dozen.

The beach was the location for baptisms of countless generations of area church-goers as well as annual homecoming events.

There were always family reunions, weddings, class reunions, birthday parties and all kinds of social events.  The children played all kinds of games, played in the river, swam and had a wonderful time. The adults danced, fished, crabbed, played cards and drank all kinds of ‘adult beverages.’  The elders sat around and reminisced about life on the river and how it had changed. They talked about how Washington had changed, shared stories about their ancestors, and often mentioned how freedom was found just beyond the river.

For many of us, Griffin’s Beach was an important part of our lives.

After graduating high school, I moved to several states in the north, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and no matter where I lived, if I told someone I was from Washington NC, they’d say “Oh little Washington? Did you go to Griffin’s Beach?”

As time changes all things, people and places, time changed Griffin’s Beach as well. It was sold by the family who owned it.  The gentleman who purchased the land and beach introduced himself to me at the service. I was deeply blessed to know how he honored the history of the beach as he shared with me how he came to purchase it. I enjoyed talking with him and as I turned to go home, I walked away thankful for my new friend and him being another link to the history and memory of Griffin’s Beach.

 

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the Co-founder & Executive Director of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.