Ahhh, what is more relaxing than a vacation at the beach? Warm sunshine, blue water, rockin’ waves, beach music, food and so much more. It’s the life that all Americans can enjoy, albeit some have to travel more than others. And what could be more patriotic than a day at American Beach? American Beach is toward the northern end of Amelia Island, just north of Jacksonville, Florida.
There was a day in our country’s not too distant past, where African Americans could not go to many public beaches. Apparently white Americans needed miles and miles of beaches to themselves, so the governing body so ordained it. Jacksonville finally gave blacks certain beaches to use, but the best beach was one bought and paid for in 1935 by Abraham Lincoln Lewis, the founder of Afro-American Life Insurance Company. Lewis’ was Florida’s first black millionaire and wanted to provide a place for his employees to enjoy the beach. He set up a subdivision so that employees and their families could build vacation homes. Hotels, restaurants and nightclubs were built. The Godfather of Soul, James Brown, was actually booted from the nightclub grounds as he was not signed up. Some other notable visitors were Billie Daniels, Ray Charles, Hank Aaron and Joe Louis. I’ve been to the nightclub and I can still envision the great music and atmosphere that must have electrified the premises.
Hurricane Dora smacked the area hard in 1964 causing widespread damage, some of which is still evident. At the same time, the civil rights movement was taking place and bans on blacks at beaches were removed. In 1964. When I was six years old. One can’t help but imagine that had white-owned hotels, houses and nightclubs been wiped out by Dora, they would have been rebuilt with tax dollars, but no such luck in that era for black owned buildings.
I commend Mr. Lewis on his patriotism and entrepreneurship in creating American Beach. With the bigotry of the times, he still named it American Beach. I hope it was because he saw a future where one’s skin color didn’t matter. I hope he wanted his employees to feel just as “American” as the whites, because they were, are and will always be.
There is a renovation attempt going on, but it doesn’t have much life. Were it to get some type of historical status and some tax infusion, it could be made vibrant again. For now, when I am in the area, you can bet that Mary Ann and I are going to visit and remember times that were not “the good ol’ days” on a beach as beautiful as they come.