American Beach, Florida

Historical Summary

On Amelia Island, officially founded in 1935 in Florida, a black town and resort community became a favored vacation spot for thousands of black vacationers. The area known as American Beach wasn’t founded as an autonomous town during the black town movement; however, like Idlewild, the community of American Beach was a direct response to Jim Crow laws that excluded them from other resort areas on the island and throughout the state and targeted black audiences. African American businessman Abraham Lincoln Lewis founded American Beach after cofounding the state’s first insurance company, Afro-American Life Insurance Company. Lewis became the state’s first black millionaire, and American Beach provided a playground for he and the wealthy and middle-class blacks. Lewis also intended to use the town as an executive retreat for business associates.[ref] “Kathleen Donaghy” American Beach: A Documentary Film [/ref]

American Beach Historical Marker American Beach Historical Marker

American Beach experienced several decades of development and success. Nightclubs, hotels, restaurants, and other businesses attracted thousands of visitors, many of whom stayed for very extended visits. Zora Neale Hurston, Cab Colloway, Hank Aaron, Joe Louis, Ray Charles, and many other celebrities spent time in the beach town. In the summers, the town was crowded and completely booked to capacity, and business was booming. American Beach, like Idlewild experienced drastic decline after 1964. The passage of the Civil Rights Act desegregated beaches and resorts throughout the country, and African American immediately exercised their right to vacation elsewhere. In addition to desegregation, American Beach was struck by Hurricane Dora in 1964, and the damage to the town was great. The town never recovered from either storm.[ref] National Register of Historic Places application/registration [/ref]

 

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