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Amelia Islandís American Beach Celebrates Diamond Anniversary

01-13-2010

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. (January 13, 2010) – On January 31, 2010, American Beach, located on northeast Florida’s Amelia Island, will celebrate its 75th anniversary.  Located on the southern end of the island, the 200-acre American Beach was once a glorious oceanfront haven for African Americans during the Jim Crow-era of segregation.  Like so much of the island’s 13 miles of shoreline, American Beach exemplifies Amelia’s unique blend of breathtaking natural beauty and intriguing history.
 
The founders of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company purchased American Beach over a span of 11 years, making the first of three purchases on Jan. 31, 1935.  A.L. Lewis, one of the company founders, was one of the first black millionaires in Florida.  In its heyday, the beach was lined with homes, restaurants and nightclubs that were frequented by notables such as Zora Neale Hurston, A. Philip Randolph, Billie Daniels, Joe Louis, Hank Aaron, Bob Hayes and others.
 
Today, American Beach is the first stop on the Florida Black Heritage Trail, with approximately 50 homes remaining from the 1940s and 1950s.  Though its popularity faded with the advent of desegregation, residents like MaVynee Betsch, great-granddaughter of A.L. Lewis, worked to keep its history alive.  Betsch made her career as an opera singer throughout Europe, and upon her return became known as “The Beach Lady” because of her unwavering devotion to environmental causes.  Betsch died in September 2005, penniless, after devoting all of her time and money to her beliefs.
 
Visitors can now enjoy a 90-minute walking tour of American Beach, which includes a stop at Miss Martha's Hideaway, a home built of hand-molded coquina blocks, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The tour also includes visits to the very first homes built on American Beach, and homes where actor Ossie Davis and jazz singer Billie Eckstein stayed on frequent visits to American Beach.  Tours are $25 per person and can be arranged by calling (904) 261-0175.
 
 -Amelia Island Convention & Visitors’ Bureau-
 
About Amelia Island
Northeast Florida’s coastal treasure, Amelia Island is a barrier island rich in colorful history and breath-taking natural beauty.  Its long, beautiful beaches, abundant wildlife and pristine waters have made the island a favorite destination for outdoor adventure.  Upscale resorts with world-class spas, championship golf and exclusive dining blend effortlessly with a captivating collection of bed and breakfast inns and historic districts.  The island is home to Fernandina Beach, once a vibrant Victorian seaport village and now a charming downtown district of eclectic shops, attractions and eateries.  Forget the everyday getaway; Come make memories on Amelia Island.  For visitor information and online planning, visit www.ameliaisland.com.


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