American Beach is a historic beach community in northeastern Florida. 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 not allowed to swim at most beaches in Jacksonville, and several Black-only areas were created.
American Beach was the largest and most popular and was a community established by Abraham Lincoln Lewis, Florida’s first Black millionaire and president of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company.
When it opened in 1936, it was the only beach in Florida that offered safe overnight entertainment and accommodations for Black vacationers. Similar to Idlewild, American Beach also drew famous entertainers like Duke Ellington and Ray Charles. Visitors could find rooms at the A. L. Lewis Motel, Williams’s Guest Lodge, and Cowart’s Motel and Restaurant. Homeowners took in additional vacationers or rented out their homes for part of the summer. For day visitors, excursion buses ran between nearby marginalized communities and the beach. Out on the beach, there were various activities including surf fishing and shell gathering, beauty contests, and automobile races.
It contains the American Beach Historic District, a historic district that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.
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- Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. “Plan of Amelia Island in East Florida.” New York Public Library Digital Collections.