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American Beach: The First Black Beach of Florida

Updated: Oct 22, 2022

It’s 1935 and African Americans would like to unwind, maybe catch a few waves and enjoy the sun, but where can you go without persecution from angry protestors who escort people of color away from what they consider their Beach?

In defiance of Jim Crow which restricted people of color from most United States Beaches, Abraham Lincoln Lewis set out to provide “A place for recreation and relaxation without humiliation for people of color.”

One of Florida’s first black millionaires and original founder of the Jacksonville Florida Afro-American Life Insurance Company decided to form an Inkwell for people of color to gather and enjoy themselves without harassment.

American Beach founder, Abraham Lincoln Lewis

The 1935 Black resort community of American Beach was established just North of Jacksonville on Amelia Island in Nassau County Florida, where upwards of 10,000 people including celebrities — Cab Calloway, Joe Louis, Duke Ellington, Hank Aaron, Zora Neale Hurston, Ray Charles, and more visited each year.

It is said the positive ambience surrounding the resort community could be felt on arrival.

Many say that same sensation is still present today and is steering communities of color back to the sandy shores of American Beach.

MaVynee Oshun Betsch may have had a thing or two to do with that.

MaVynee Betsch

Known by many as “The Beach Lady,” MaVynee was a major advocate and supporter of her great-grandfather, Abraham Lincoln Lewis legacy, and spent most of her life educating others on the importance of Florida’s first Black Beach.

Her vision to showcase mementos from the heyday of American Beach became a reality in 2014 when the museum was established on Amelia Island, Florida.

Although MayVynee didn’t witness the fruition of the 2014 American Beach Museum, we are pretty sure she’s looking down with great admiration.

Beachgoers courtesy of Olivia Meadows

The Beach Lady, MaVynee Betsch

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