American Beach was developed as an ocean front resort for African Americans on the south end of Amelia Island, Florida, by Florida’s first black millionaire, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, and his Afro-American Life Insurance Company. The plan was for his employees to have a place to buy homes and vacation spots for their families. Often jammed with overflowing crowds in the summer, American Beach was known as the location of choice for African Americans throughout thr region during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. The beach included hotels, restaurants and nightclubs as well as homes and other businesses. The beach played host to numerous celebrities during this period, including: folklorist Zora Neale Hurston, singer Billie Daniels, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Billy Eckstein, Hank Aaron, Joe Louis, and actor Ossie Davis.
In 1964, American Beach was hit hard by Hurricane Dora, and many homes and buildings were destroyed. The passage of the Civil Rights Act that same year desegregated the beaches of Florida, and American Beach became a less and less popular vacation destination as more African American Jacksonvillians turned to locations nearer their homes.
A.L. Lewis’ great-granddaughter MaVynee Betsch, known to locals as the Beach Lady, returned to American Beach in 1977 to fight for its preservation. For years she planted trees along Lewis street, offered historical tours of the beach, and fought to raise public awareness of the beach and its struggle until her death September 2005. As of January 2002, American Beach is listed as a historic site by the National Register of Historic Places.
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