American Beach History

Olivia Meadows
4 min readOct 19, 2021

Why Florida’s First Black Beach is Making Waves

illustration, American Beach Museum

On a warm and sunny day in 1935 African Americans are searching for a place to unwind, maybe catch a few waves and enjoy the sun, but where can one 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 Blacks from most United States Beaches, Abraham Lincoln Lewis set out to provide a safe haven, “A place for recreation and relaxation without humiliation for people of color.”

Florida’s first Black millionaire and one of the original founders of the Jacksonville Florida Afro-American Life Insurance Company incorporated a seashore for people of color to gather and enjoy themselves without harassment encompassing thirty-three acres of land and a 1000-foot shoreline.

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 could be felt on arrival, many say that same sensation is still present 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.

Known by many as “The Beach Lady,” MaVynee was a major advocate and supporter of her great-grandfather, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, and spent most of her life educating others on the importance of Florida’s first Black Beach. The vision to showcase mementos from the heyday of American Beach became a reality in 2014 when the museum opened its doors on Amelia Island. Although MaVynee didn’t witness the fruition of the Museum we are sure she’s looking down with great admiration as well as concern as many lifelong residents move from the area due to the community redevelopment taking place.

Unlike the 50 + million acres of Native American lands held in trust by the United States government for Native American communities, there are few allotments for African Americans that exist. Native American Lands | Ownership and Governance | Natural Resources Revenue Data