Monday, July 6, 2009

American Beach

This Independence Day, Chef, Lil' Bit and I celebrated with a picnic on the beach...but not just any beach...American Beach. American Beach was the first African American beach in the USA. It was founded by Abraham Lincoln Lewis in 1935. He was the president of Florida's first insurance company and he created American Beach as a vacation spot for African Americans to relax with out the tension of segregation.

Going to the beach can be as simple as a towel and a tube of sunscreen...or it can be a whole lot more. We decided to go all out...tent, table, chairs, cooler... the whole nine yards. Chef looked like a donkey laden with supplies as he trudged his way through the sand, while I juggled the baby and two bags of stuff along with a beach chair. We made our way up the sandy path and passed the boarded up, burnt out nightclub once known as Evan's Rendezvous. Louie Armstrong, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, Zora Neal Hurston and a long list of other brilliant artists once graced this juke joint.

I set Lil' Bit down in the sand to help Chef with the tent and she immediately took one look at her gritty little hand and started screaming bloody murder. By the time we left she was crawling at top speed across the beach chasing after birds and dogs.

This was Lil' Bit's 1st time swimming, or should I say clinging, in the ocean. It was wonderful. When we arrived dolphins were splashing in the surf, which I always take a sign of good luck.
The waves were low key and the water was cool and refreshing. It was lovely.

We dined on pesto pasta and wild shrimp salad, caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes that I had picked up from a local farm that morning, and ice cold watermelon. A daredevil pilot was doing all sorts of wild acrobatics in the sky further down the beach. Chef shouted from the water "Look!" I saw a plane doing a nosedive with smoke billowing out behind its tail. Then before it hit the water it swooped straight up to the sky. For a second I thought I was about to witness a tragedy. The plane dipped and dived for the next half an hour. It was like we had our own private air show.

There was something really special about spending the 4th of July on American Beach this year. I felt like not only were we celebrating a national holiday, but also the first African American president. Everyone on the beach that day seemed to be genuinely joyful.

I couldn't help but think of MaVynee Betch, Abraham Lewis's great-granddaughter. Known as The Beach Lady, she was a striking woman with an operatic voice and gray hair woven into a dread lock the thickness of a boa constrictor and so long she would carry it wrapped around her arm. MaVynee passed away in 2005, and she spent the latter half of her life striving to protect her family's beach and its history. We parked our car in the grassy lot next to the little pink cinder block house that served as her home and beach museum for many years. As we packed up the car I swear I could feel her humming in the air, and I know that she was there in the ocean breeze looking out on her community and her nation proud to see how far we have truly come...and knowing that more change is still on its way.

On this Independence Day I was proud to be a member of a nation that took one giant step in the direction of progress this year.


Blushing hostess said...

Nan - something is going on with the HTML script for the photos I think because when I pick up your posts in Reader, all I see is HTML code and then verbage... no photos... just fyi. Be well.

Bob Sam said...

Please add American Beach to the list of must-see/do...oh, yeah, Evan's Rendezvous, which clearly has pilgrimage status, also...