By Mike Miller February 4, 2023
American Beach is on Amelia Island just south of Fernandina Beach, Florida on State Road A1A.
Jim Crow laws in Florida, like in other southern states, were a series of state and local laws that imposed segregation and discrimination against African Americans from the late 19th century to the mid-1960s.
These laws mandated segregation in all public places, including beaches. As a result, African Americans were not allowed to use public beaches that were designated for white people.
This created a need for separate and often inferior beaches for African Americans.
The situation was particularly prevalent in Florida, where the state's long coastline and warm weather made the beaches a popular destination.
The American Beach resort was founded by Abraham Lincoln Lewis, a wealthy African American businessman and insurance executive.
Lewis established the beach resort in 1935 as a place where black Americans could enjoy a beach vacation free from the discrimination they faced at other beach resorts.
It became one of the few beaches available to African Americans during the era of segregation.
During the Civil Rights Movement, the beach became a gathering place for activists and served as an important symbol of black pride and empowerment.
Two events in close succession spelled bad times for American Beach.
Hurricane Dora in 1964 badly damaged the beach and the Civil Rights Act desegregated the south. The community struggled to rebuild but developers spent their money elsewhere.
The great-grandaughter of Abraham Lewis was an opera singer who came back to Florida in the 1970s.
She decided to stay in American Beach and became known as "The Beach Lady" although her real name was MaVynee Oshun Betsch.
She dedicated the rest of her life to preserving the memories and remaining artifacts of American Beach.
In the years before the American Beach Museum opened in 2014, she kept a collection of magazines and other documents about her great-grandfather.
She called the motorhome that housed the collection "Revolutionary Headquarters" and enjoyed giving people tours of the streets and a visit to the motorhome.
The beach lady died in 2005.
Today, American Beach is a beloved community and a designated historic district, recognized for its cultural and historical significance to the African American community.
Our Facebook page has more than 125,890 followers who love off the beaten path Florida: towns, tourist attractions, maps, lodging, food, festivals, scenic road trips, day trips, history, culture, nostalgia, and more. We post articles every day. Please check it out and if you like it, we would appreciate a "like" from you.
By Mike Miller, Copyright 2009-2023
Florida Back Roads Travel is not affiliated with or endorsed by Backroads, a California-based tour operator which arranges and conducts travel programs throughout the world.