American Beach is a historic beach community popular with African-American vacationers. It is located north of Jacksonville, Florida 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 of the 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
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. The beach included hotels, restaurants, bathhouses 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, and actor Ossie Davis. 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 September 2005. As of January 2002, American Beach is listed as a historic site by the National Register of Historic Places.