The American Beach Museum, located off of highway A 1-A on Amelia Island’s historic American Beach, is an unexpected discovery found along the path less taken. Housed in a low-country style building with a wrap-around porch, the exhibit , “Sands of Time: An American Beach Story” opened in September, 2014 with a story line built upon the memories and memorabilia of several generations of African American residents and visitors.
The driving force behind the conception of American Beach was Abraham Lincoln Lewis, one of the original founders in 1901 of Jacksonville, Florida’s Afro-American Life Insurance Company. Lewis was a man with little formal education who became a world traveler, visionary investor, philanthropist, and Florida’s first African American millionaire. The African American resort community of American Beach was established in 1935 in defiance of segregation and the prevailing Jim Crow laws of that era. When first mapped out, the streets of American Beach were named for the Afro’s founders and their families.
Encompassing 216 acres, American Beach became known as “The Negro Ocean Playground”….a place for “recreation and relaxation without humiliation”.
As the numbers of visitors grew, businesses sprang up providing food, lodging and entertainment. Performers who appeared at American Beach during its heyday include Duke Ellington and other popular musicians of the ‘40s and ‘50s.
The changes that came with integration signaled the demise of that idyllic moment in time.
Initially a summer vacation community attracting visitors from throughout the South, American Beach today has many year-‘round residents and visitors from all points of the compass. Now half its original size due to land lost over the years to development, current property owners, preservationists and historians are united to preserve the heritage and the land. The American Beach Museum, through objects, photographs and video documentation, stands as an anchor for those efforts.
The Beach Lady
American Beach’s most passionate and effective advocate was MaVynee Oshun Betsch, great-grand daughter of A. L. Lewis and an internationally respected environmental activist known affectionately as The Beach Lady. Her life’s work and personal resources were the catalyst for the preservation of the great sand dune, NaNa, a protected, majestic and spiritual presence on American Beach. The museum pays tribute to MaVynee’s legacy and includes among its artifacts her legendary seven-foot long lock of natural hair, embellished with talismans of her favorite causes.See more photos of MaVynee Oshun Betsch