Sankofa Cultural Arts Center puts focus on Rosedale Beach legacy

DOVER –– The Sankofa Cultural Arts Center will bring the legacy of Millsboro’s Rosedale Beach back to life on Sept. 2 and 3.

“Anyone who’s lived in Delaware for 30 years or more knows at least something about Rosedale Beach,” organizer Don Blakey said. “But it’s been a long time and some young people might not know about it at all.”

Rosedale Beach began making a name for itself back in the 1930s as famous African American singers and musicians passed through or stopped to give a live performance.

“When African American performers were passing through Delaware, because of segregation, they weren’t allowed to stay at most hotels and if they were coming to perform, a lot of venues were off limits,” Mr. Blakey said.

Rosedale Beach became a stopping point for performers such as Louis Armstrong, Chick Webb, Fats Waller, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder, among other musicians. They would perform at Rosedale’s dance hall and people from all over the area would come to see the show.

“There were buses of African Americans that would come down from Wilmington to see shows –– not only for the big names, but for the less famous people too, because there weren’t many places for them to see quality entertainment,” Mr. Blakey said.

Mr. Blakey organized the show to bring the spirit of Rosedale Beach back to life, allowing older people to revisit memories and younger people to learn about our area’s history.

“This isn’t the kind of show that you just sit and watch –– it encourages a lot of audience participation,” Mr. Blakey said. “We have a lot of music that was performed at Rosedale and everyone in our audience is going to be dancing and singing along to the music.”

Seven dancers from the Sankofa Cultural Arts Center will be featured in the performance and lead the period dances.

Mr. Blakey said a lot of research went into planning the performance from reading to interviewing people who had been to festivities at Rosedale back in its hey-day.

“We pieced all the information we gathered together as well as possible to make it an authentic, accurate experience,” he said.

During the 30-plus years Rosedale served as an entertainment hub, it was also a safe haven for African Americans to do lots of activities –– in addition to the dance hall, Rosedale Beach also had a 32-room hotel, boardwalk, camp ground and picnic areas.

“It wasn’t just a place for music,” Mr. Blakey said. “People came from all three counties for church services, family outings, it was a safe haven for African Americans to go out and enjoy themselves, especially during the summer.”

As Rosedale gained a reputation as an entertainment hub, not only African Americans came for the shows –– whites would listen to or watch shows from boats in the Indian River.

“When there was segregation, African Americans couldn’t just go anywhere to see a show and African American artists couldn’t perform at any regular club and Rosedale Beach became a place for all these people to go,” Mr. Blakey said.

But when integration started moving in in the 1960s, Rosedale met its downfall. Blacks and whites now were sharing schools, hotels and performance areas, making Rosedale’s lure less important than before.

But a storm in 1962 that wiped out the boardwalk and financial strains that prevented repairs and upkeep also led to the closing of the site in the early 1970s.

“Although it hasn’t been open for 40 or more years, Rosedale Beach remains an iconic place for me and many other Delawareans,” Mr. Blakey said. “Hopefully, this performance will take people back to the days when they enjoyed Rosedale Beach.”

“Remembering Rosedale Beach” will take the stage at the Inner City Cultural League on Sept. 2 and 3 at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the door for $15 each. The Inner City Cultural League is at 39 S. West Street in Dover. For more information call 736-0101.

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