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American Beach Historic District
American Beach FL HD house01a.jpg
American Beach, Florida is located in Florida
American Beach, Florida
Location in Florida
American Beach, Florida is located in the United States
American Beach, Florida
Location in the United States
Location Roughly bounded by Gregg, Lewis, Leonard, Main and James Sts., and Ocean Blvd., American Beach, Florida
Area 40 acres (16 ha)
Built 1935
Architect Patterson, George; et al.
Architectural style Colonial Revival, Frame and masonry vernacular
NRHP reference No. 01001532
Added to NRHP January 28, 2002

American Beach is a historic beach community in northeastern Florida once popular with 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 denied access to many public amenities such as public pools and beaches in order to increase the value of nearby real estate, among other reasons. Abraham Lincoln Lewis, Florida's first black millionaire and president of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company, thus founded American Beach as a community hotspot which welcomed all, yet was visited mostly by African Americans. It contains the American Beach Historic District, a historic district which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

American Beach
American Beach FL NaNa02
Nana dune, named after the Beach Lady
American Beach


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 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.

Historic district

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 400 acres (1.6 km2), and contains 67 buildings and one structure. On January 28, 2002, it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Fictional portrayals

  • Sunshine State, Film directed by John Sayles (2002) Sunshine State (film)

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