22 St. & Loc. L. News 1 (1998-1999)

handle is hein.journals/stlolane6 and id is 1 raw text is: /M    Section of State and Local Government Law

The Section serves as a collegialforum for its members, the profession and the public to provide leadership and educational resources in
urban, state and localgovernment law andpolicy.
American Beach: Surviving the Times
By Tonyaa Weathersbee

The 1930s were when Sunday seashore picnics only filled
the dreams of African-Americans. But in North Florida
Abraham Lincoln Lewis, founder of the state's first black-
owned insurance company, made that dream a reality.
With money from the Afro-American Life Insurance
Company's pension plan and a federal grant, Lewis and the
other company owners purchased 200 acres of the south
end of Amelia Island. They named the property American
Beach and for the next forty years the beach was the place
for blacks on summer Sundays. Charter and church buses
from Jacksonville and South Georgia would pack the
shore. People would gather at Evans Ocean Rendezvous
for his famous whiting and sea bass and to listen to live jazz
and blues. Families would look forward to weekends at the
A.L. Lewis Motel and bring picnic baskets brimming with
chicken and potato salad. It was a place where African-
Americans could revel both in nature and in their culture.
Now, just two years shy of the millennium, American
Beach is still hanging on. But barely.
The threats to its existence are twofold. The first threat
comes from developers-namely from the adjacent Amelia
Island Plantation. Their activities have encroached on much
of the sixty-five or so acres left of American Beach. A good
part of the beach was sold after Jacksonville Beach and
other beaches that were formerly off-limits to black beach
goers desegregated in the 1960s.
By the 1980s, many African-Americans had stopped fre-
quenting American Beach as much as they had in the past.
At the same time many of the original owners of American
Beach property died and their heirs sold the property to
developers. The most recent sale occurred two years ago
when the plantation bought eighty acres including a
large dune that punctuates the beach's natural beauty. A
retirement village has been built west of the beach and a
five-hole golf course is planned. Residents fought the devel-
opers, but lost.
The sale magnified the residents' fear of higher proper-
Tonyaa Weathersbee is an editor with the Jacksonville Times-
Union and a resident of American Beach.

ty taxes. That fear has, in some respects, paralyzed them
in their pursuit of progress. This paralysis is what
is creating the second threat to American Beach's sur-
vival-an ongoing uneasiness between homeowners and
business owners.
Business owners, such as William Weathersbee, owner of
the Rendezvous and Emma Morgan, who operates a park-
ing lot on summer Sundays, would like American Beach to
have water and sewer services installed. Currently, the beach
is the only place on the island serviced by private wells.
Water and sewer services, they say, will help them improve
their businesses and attract more business. But many resi-
dents say that hooking into the water and sewer services will
make the beach more attractive to developers-a situation
that could price them off the beach.
The conflict between American Beach property owners
who crave the quiet seaside enclave life and those who want
the beach to be a place for everyone as it was in its heyday,
always comes to a head at the beginning of the beach season.
One Sunday in May, about 5,000 people came to the
beach. Officers from the Nassau County Sheriff's office
were also there-per the request of residents. But the crowd
(continued on page 6)
. Chair's Messag e
 Preventi , 1,jv e rograms After F  a er v. City
of Boca Ratoii, pa-e 7
 Ten F ffectv Stae-c     o   ouiis411
MunicipaL (   t11,g111'  ollE xc  pge 9
* Envwron.~                       h /

*Recent Developmnen s, pagli 14

Vol. 22, No. 1, Fall 1998

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