Since 1935, tiny American Beach has weathered hurricanes, segregation, economic downturns, and developers to provide a vacation haven for many African-American families.
1 of 6Courtesy of Marsha Phetts
From the 1930s to the 1950s, American Beach successfully drew African-Americans from around the country to the Florida coast. With celebrities such as singer Ray Charles and writer Zora Neale Hurston as part of the attraction, area nightclubs, restaurants, and businesses thrived.
2 of 6Courtesy of Marsha Phetts
After Abraham Lincoln Lewis and six others invested in this tiny strip of land on the Atlantic, houses began popping up in the community. The purchase and development of American Beach made it possible for black families to enjoy vacations on the coast during the Jim Crow era. This photo was featured in a Smithsonian exhibit on segregated beaches.
3 of 6Courtesy of Charles Woods
The Beach Lady
Born in 1935, the same year her great-grandfather founded American Beach, MaVynee Betsch was a fixture in the neighborhood until her death in 2005. With her 7-foot-long hair draped over one arm, the former opera singer and environmentalist fought valiantly to preserve the dunes and the community from encroaching developers.
4 of 6Courtesy of the University of Florida
Signs of the Past
Thanks in large part to the efforts of MaVynee Betsch and other passionate historians, American Beach is listed on the Florida Black Heritage Trail and the National Register of Historic Places.
5 of 6Anthony John Coletti
Ties that Bind
From the beginning, American Beach has been about celebrating family. Today, some of the community's original families still gather here for vacations.
6 of 6Anthony John Coletti
American Beach is no longer the rambunctious community of its youth. It has fewer than 100 full-time residents, but it still draws a loyal base of regular visitors.
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