We all know Carson Beach as one of the quintessential Southie beaches, but there’s actually a lot of interesting, often-forgotten history to the summer destination. From the Boston Harbor cleanup to the beach’s history with anti-segregation efforts, here’s a quick look at the history of Carson Beach as we head into the summer.

Today, the Boston Harbor beaches are known as relatively clean and safe for swimming, but the road to cleanliness wasn’t an easy one. As early as the late 1800s, the Boston sewer system began to divert raw sewage into the Boston Harbor near Moon Island. And due to continued industrialization, pesticides, and heavy metals started to pollute the waters in the 20th century. With the danger of swimming in Boston Harbor, beaches well-known enough to spawn the classic “Dirty Water” by the Standells, the Carson Beach Bathhouse, unfortunately, fell into disuse by the early 70s. 

Around that same time, Congress passed the Clean Water Act as a reaction to similarly polluted beaches across America. Initially, the city of Boston failed to implement any changes, but in 1982, the Conservation Law Foundation sued the city for failing to comply with the Act. In 1985, the City began its cleanup act in earnest, creating the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. By the 2000s, the water was once again deemed safe to swim and fish in—perfect timing for the newly renovated Carson Beach Bathhouse to open in 1998. Though the water is safe now, keeping it safe is a continued effort: rainy days can still lead to sewage overflow and an increase in bacterial populations. 

Just as Carson Beach’s water cleanup efforts were intertwined with those of the nation, the beach was also a site for many Boston civil rights protests. Most notably, on August 10, 1975, a group of Black protesters gathered at Carson Beach, affirming their right to use Boston’s public spaces. These protests came in the wake of a series of racist attacks on Black visitors to the beach in the summer of 1975. Unfortunately, what was intended to be a peaceful protest turned violent after white onlookers began to heckle protesters with slurs. Ultimately, with over 2,000 protesting at the beach, multiple police agencies had to be deployed to quell the protests. 

Today, Carson Beach and other Boston Harbor beaches draw a much more diverse crowd, something many Black Bostonians see as an ultimate victory for the 1975 protests. Rev. Miniard Culpepper told the Boston Globe in 2020: “Whenever I ride by there and I see Black people and white people on the beach and enjoying the beach, it reminds me of how much we fought for them to be able to enjoy that beach today.” Like anywhere, racial tensions and issues remain, but Carson Beach is proof Boston has come a long way. 

 

4 Comments

  1. FU May 18, 2024 at 12:35 am - Reply

    totally missed the history of doing WWII invasion drills on that beach too.

  2. Dirty Water… May 23, 2024 at 3:07 pm - Reply

    …is “sorta/kinda” about the Charles River.
    And The Standells are “definitely” from LA, so…..that’s as far as I got with this.
    Or cared to go. if I’m being honest.

  3. Paul McKenna May 23, 2024 at 3:13 pm - Reply

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  4. Karen Morris May 23, 2024 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    Enjoyed the History lesson Shane .

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