Located on the lovely Amelia Island, just north of Jacksonville, American Beach is a historic beach with deep roots and an extensive African American history.
The beach was founded by Abraham Lincoln Lewis, a business luminary who was Florida’s first black millionaire and served as president of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company. Lewis founded the beach to benefit his African American workers during the Jim Crow era, a time where blacks were not allowed to swim at most of the Jacksonville Beaches.
While Lewis originally wanted to provide a great vacation spot for working families at his company, American Beach quickly became a cultural icon for black families in Florida. The beach continued to attract a wide range of visitors throughout the 1950’s, and outstanding restaurants, hotels and nightclubs were soon built at American Beach.
Unfortunately, while African-Americans were fighting for their civil rights across the country in the early 1960’s, American Beach suffered the loss of many homes and buildings as a result of Hurricane Dora. After the Civil Rights Act desegregated Florida’s beaches in the same year, American Beach lost its original popularity and many African American Floridians vacationed at beaches that were closer to their home.
MaVynee Betsch, the great-granddaughter of Abraham Lincoln Lewis, refused to let the beach lose its cultural significance. She returned to American Beach in the 1970’s and worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the beach and its unique place in history. Betsch planted trees along Lewis street and offered historic beach tours to visitors, earning the title of the “Beach Lady.”
Betsch actively campaigned on behalf of her beloved beach until her passing in 2005. Ultimately, Betsch wanted American Beach to be remembered, serving as a monument to her great-grandfather and the determination of the African-American spirit during the Jim Crow era. Betsch lived to see her efforts rewarded in 2001, with American Beach being registered as a historic site by the National Register of Historic Places.
The American Beach Conservation Project wants to continue Betsch’s work and honor her legacy by continuing to maintain and preserve this historic and timeless beach.