Black History Month:  American Beach

When you take the scenic 45-minute drive down A1A from Jacksonville to Amelia Island you pass a lot of places from parks and restaurants to the St. Johns River Ferry.

American Beach is just down A1A from the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort. I must admit, I’ve been to this area before and had no idea American Beach even existed.

American Beach was founded January 31, 1935, by Abraham Lincoln Lewis. The museum that sits in this historic part of Nassau County was created through the eyes of Lewis’ great-granddaughter, MaVynee Oshun Betsch AKA “The Beach Lady”.

The museum at 1600 Julia Street opened 9 years after “The Beach Lady” died.

The original museum was in her RV.

When you get to the small museum inside the community center you start with a video. Who do you see? “The Beach Lady.” She takes you around this part of Amelia Island that since it’s inception has gone through much transition.

It started as a place where the employees of Afro American Insurance Company could come for “recreation and relaxation without humiliation.” Think about it! This was a time of separation. It was a time that Jim Crow was alive and well.

Blacks were only allowed onto beaches to tend to the needs of their white employers. However, their need for relaxation went unrealized.

Then, in walks A.L. Lewis. Lewis realized and met that need with American Beach. According to the museum’s website, Lewis was “Florida’s first African-American millionaire”.

The first home built on American Beach for Lewis is still there.

A sand dune named Nana is part of the National Park System.

The names of the streets in the area represent an important piece of history. It’s the names of the people who looked at the lives of their brothers and sisters of color and realized they needed something extra. They needed something that would take away the cares of the time, even if it was only for a few days. It’s the names of the people who played a part in making American Beach a reality.

The things you see in American Beach that make this place a “must see” are the result of the work of “The Beach Lady.”

If you’ve been to the area and didn’t realize it’s rich Black history, go again! Return with an open mind and fresh eyes.

This may be part of the First Coast that one of your ancestors went to for “recreation and relaxation without humiliation.”

There’s so much more to say about American Beach and the best way to learn is to visit. The photos don’t do American Beach justice.

The American Beach Museum is open Friday thru Sunday.

  • Friday: 10am-2pm
  • Saturday: 10am-2pm
  • Sunday: 1pm-5pm

Listen to my podcast with Evelyn Jones about American Beach. Jones used to visit the area and now lives there. We talk about “The Beach Lady”, whether times have changed and why you should visit American Beach.

Be sure to checkout last week’s HOT 99.5 Black History Month spotlight, the St. Joseph’s Mission Schoolhouse for African-American Children.

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