Civil Rights Tour: Recreation - Seafarers Yacht Club

1950 M Street SE

The Seafarers Yacht Club of Washington, DC, established in 1944, is the oldest African American boat club on the East Coast and represents a step in the long process of equal access to public facilities.

Lewis T. Green, Sr., a gifted wood carver, lover of waterways, and vocational arts teacher in the DC Public Schools, built boats as a hobby. In his search for a place to dock one of his vessels—a 49-foot cruiser named Valeria—Green contacted the US Department of the Interior about leasing a section of the government-owned land along the Anacostia River. The Department of the Interior required that, before such a request could be reviewed, Green would need to establish a club. So, he and several others established the Seafarers Boat Club whose stated mission was to offer African Americans the opportunity to engage in the enjoyment of the waterways through safe boating and “gentlemanly sportsmanship.”

Despite fulfilling its pre-requisite, the Department of the Interior ignored Green’s follow-up request to lease the land. Eventually, Mary McLeod Bethune, an advisor to both President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt intervened on his behalf, and the Department rented the club the site on the west bank of the Anacostia, between the Sousa and CXS Railroad bridges.

In 1965, the DC Mariners Club, established in the 1950s and in need of a yard and club house, took over Seafarers, retaining the latter's name. The boat club later changed its name to Seafarers Yacht Club.

The original members of Seafarers improved the marshy land and built docks and a clubhouse. Seafarers also promoted boating safety and engaged in community service projects such as the annual Anacostia River Cleanup Day, which the club initiated in 1985.