The two Washington professionals came to Ocean City, Md., to relax on the beach and at a campground in nearby Assateague, but because they are black, they said, they felt conspicuous and at times unwelcome.

"At the campground I got really stared at this morning -- a good, long, four-second stare," said Gladys Brooks, 34, a legal secretary, as she sunned on the beach last week amid a 99 percent white crowd.

Patrice Latimer, the 39-year-old lawyer who came with Brooks and brought her two children, said she often has such experiences in the resort town.

"What I find in Ocean City reminds me of the feeling I got a long time ago growing up in Oklahoma," Latimer said. "It's like you're always standing out, like you don't quite belong."

Many black people from the Washington area steer clear of Maryland's premier beach town, saying they feel out of place there.

It is a feeling the local NAACP is trying to change this summer, by pushing Ocean City officials and businesses to put more black faces in ads and brochures.

The whiteness of Ocean City, NAACP activists say, is a legacy of the segregation that continued until the early 1960s and kept blacks from setting foot on that beach and many others along the Atlantic.

"Since then, Ocean City has never made much of an effort to say, 'Hey those days are over,' " said George N. Buntin Jr., executive director of Baltimore's NAACP. "African Americans were never made to feel comfortable in Ocean City. They had to go to the 'black beaches.' "

White families still dominate the city's tourism literature, said James Purnell, president of the Worcester County NAACP. "It's been three years since we began talking about these issues," he said, "and nothing has been done."

But City Manager Dennis Dare said Ocean City officials are doing their share. "The NAACP raised this issue, and the town edited its TV commercials to be more inclusive. And that was that," Dare said. "They've brought the issue up again and said, 'What about the private sector?' And we're going to work with them on that. We're doing everything we can to say, 'Everyone is welcome here.' "

Art Hitch, past president of the Hotel, Motel and Restaurant Owners Association, said his group is getting its fall brochures printed, "and I can assure you they are balanced."

The racial homogeneity of Ocean City is striking. On a broiling hot day last week, there were tens of thousands of people splashing in the waves and sprawling on the sand, but few were black.

City tourism officials do not keep racial statistics on their visitors, but on a crowded 20-block stretch of beach between 12th Street and the fishing pier there were only 64 black faces. It was possible to walk for several minutes before seeing a single one, even though the Washington area is 25 percent black.

Robert W. Branch, of Forestville, whose family has gone to Ocean City since 1976, said there are more black tourists these days.

"Back then, we were like one chocolate drop on the beach," said Branch, a 26-year-old freelance writer who remembers being the target of racist slurs while walking on the boardwalk with his young cousins.

"We just heard the voices in the crowd," he said. "I remember it scared me."

Robert Legrand, 19, and Crista Clemons, 17, an interracial couple working summer jobs in Ocean City this season, said people there often make rude, racist remarks and shoot hostile looks at them. Legrand is black, and Clemons is white.

One man inside a bar kept staring at them and saying, "I hate to see that. I just hate to see that," Legrand said.

Surrounded by a beach crowd that was almost entirely white, the couple said they rarely have such experiences back home in Baltimore, or in Washington or Virginia Beach, where Legrand wanted to work this summer.

"I talked him into Ocean City because my parents were coming down here anyway," Clemons said, looking ruefully at Legrand.

Richard Tilghman, of Hyattsville, said he likes the nighttime boardwalk scene at Ocean City, but occasionally has had problems with groups of young white men.

"It happened this year again, where a bunch of them walked behind me and my friend and started talking about David Duke and laughing," said Tilghman, a security guard.

"Mostly, it's not that bad, I have an okay time here," he said. "They always watch black males like a hawk in the stores. Here you just get it more."

Branch said his family still owns a house in Ocean City, but many of his friends are surprised when they hear he goes there.

Branch and others said many Washington area blacks prefer the atmosphere in Virginia Beach, which is about the same distance from Washington. Ocean City is 150 miles east of Washington and Virginia Beach is nearly 200 miles southeast.

Indeed, on a recent afternoon at Virginia Beach, the beach crowd near 20th Street was 25 to 30 percent black. The proportion of blacks increased as evening fell and teenagers began cruising the street on foot or in cars. Several interracial couples strolled the streets.

"You see blacks and whites and Orientals here, all kinds of nationalities. It's like a big melting pot," said Deborah Williams, 30, of Hampton Roads.

Virginia Beach officials take credit for their town's racial integration, attributing it to aggressive marketing.

They said surveys show that 8 to 12 percent of overnight visitors are minorities, primarily blacks, with day visitors bringing the percentage even higher.

According to Jim Ricketts, Virginia Beach's director of visitor development, the city includes black faces in its brochures.

The literature available last week at the city's beachside information booth, however, was dominated by blonde-haired whites.

Others attributed the greater popularity of Virginia Beach to the larger year-round black populations nearby and the presence of several historically black colleges.

"It's a tradition. Students have been customarily coming here after school lets out," said Stephanie Gilmore, of District Heights, an Old Dominion graduate working in Virginia Beach this summer.

But blacks go to Virginia Beach more in spite of local attitudes, than because of them, Gilmore said.

Some have stopped visiting as a result of the 1989 Greekfest, the black fraternity festival that ended in violence.

Other young blacks have returned but bristle at summer policies such as the 1990 requirement that hotel guests wear identification bracelets and the current practice of ticketing cars that repeatedly cruise the main drag.

Ocean City has had its share of racial tension lately as well, with the Fourth of July appearance of hooded Ku Klux Klan members on the boardwalk.

The Virginia Beach NAACP, like its counterpart in Ocean City, has pushed the city to work toward equal employment and support black-owned businesses.

"We don't just desire that a bunch of African Americans come here and spend money here and leave," said E. George Minns, president of the city's NAACP.

"Blacks who live here should be able to do more than make the beds and clean the toilets."

But perhaps the strongest force keeping many blacks off the beach in both Maryland and Virginia is the memory of segregation.

"Unless you had a white baby or a white coat {of a servant} you would be asked to leave," Minns recalled. "I never put one toe in the ocean until I was a teenager."

In Maryland, the beaches where blacks were permitted to swim were generally on the Chesapeake.

"I grew up around Baltimore. And back then you just didn't go to Ocean City. It was unthinkable," said Al Thomas, 42, a Denver insurance man.

Thomas, who was sitting on the sand in Virginia Beach with his wife and mother-in-law, remembered fondly how, some 35 years ago, his great-grandfather had taken him to this beach to show him the Atlantic.

Did he swim?

"Couldn't," he said. "We just came, looked and left."