American Beach, Florida
American Beach Historic District
|Location||Roughly bounded by Gregg, Lewis, Leonard, Main and James Sts., and Ocean Blvd., American Beach, Florida|
|Area||40 acres (16 ha)|
|Architect||Patterson, George; et al.|
|Architectural style||Colonial Revival, Frame and masonry vernacular|
|NRHP reference #||01001532|
|Added to NRHP||January 28, 2002|
American Beach is a historic beach community in northeastern Florida popular with African-American vacationers. It is located north of Jacksonville on Amelia Island in Nassau County. During the time of segregation and the Jim Crow era, African Americans were not allowed to swim at most beaches in Jacksonville, and several black-only areas were created. American Beach was the largest and most popular, and was a community established by Abraham Lincoln Lewis, Florida's first black millionaire and president of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company. It contains American Beach Historic District, a historic district which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.
American Beach was founded in 1935 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 vacation and own homes for their families by the shore. Throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, summers at American Beach were busy with families, churches and children. It was a place where African Americans could enjoy "Recreation and Relaxation Without Humiliation". The beach included hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs as well as homes and other businesses.
American 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, actor Ossie Davis, and Sherman Hemsley . James Brown was actually turned away from performing outside Evans' Rendezvous, a nightclub on the beach. 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 in September 2005. She wanted to make American Beach a monument to black Americans' determination to overcome the obstacles of the Jim Crow era. As of January 2001, American Beach is listed as a historic site by the National Register of Historic Places.
American Beach Historic District is a U.S. historic district in American Beach. It is roughly bounded by Gregg, Lewis, Leonard, Main, and James Streets, and Ocean Boulevard, encompasses approximately 40 acres (16 ha), and contains 67 buildings and one structure. On January 28, 2002, it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
- Sims, Janice (2006). That Summer At American Beach. ISBN 1-58314-627-X.
- Sunshine State, Film directed by John Sayles in 2002.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
- Cottage Living. p. 144. Missing or empty
- "History of American Beach: African American determination". National Park Service. Retrieved 12 February 2016.
- "History of American Beach: A Minority at its Leisure". National Park Service. Retrieved 12 February 2016.
- "History of American Beach: 1964, Beginning of the End". National Park Service. Retrieved 12 February 2016.
- McEachin, Joel; Jones, Robert O. (December 2001). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: American Beach Historic District". National Park Service. Retrieved August 14, 2017. With 18 photos.
- Rymer, Russ (2000). American Beach: How "Progress" Robbed a Black Town—and Nation—of History, Wealth, and Power. ISBN 0-06-093089-6.
- Rymer, Russ (1998). American Beach: A Saga of Race, Wealth, and Memory. ISBN 0-06-017483-8.