From University Press of Florida
Located on Amelia Island in northeast Florida and established by the Pension
Bureau of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company, American Beach today is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It remains a beloved vacation destination as well as a year-round home for many African Americans.
For The American Beach Cookbook, Marsha Dean Phelts has collected nearly 300 recipes passed down through generations. Over the years, many influences have found their way into the dishes and are represented here by everything from pig's feet to sweet potato pone and from smothered shrimp to bourbon slushes. Mouths will water at such treats as fried cheese grits, she-crab soup, seafood casserole, crab coated shrimp chops, cornbread dumplings, chicken curry, corn relish, pickled peaches, Big Mama's fruitcake, and much more.
In addition to the recipes, readers will enjoy compelling vignettes that illustrate the heritage of people and potables, vintage photographs, and area maps that together tell one of the great stories of a unique community.
Marsha Dean Phelts is the author of An American Beach for African Americans.
From University Press of Florida
In the only complete history of Florida’s American Beach to date, Marsha Dean Phelts draws together personal interviews, photos, newspaper articles, memoirs, maps, and official documents to reconstruct the character and traditions of Amelia Island’s 200-acre African American community. In its heyday, when other beaches grudgingly provided only limited access, black vacationers traveled as many as 1,000 miles down the east coast of the United States and hundreds of miles along the Gulf coast to a beachfront that welcomed their business.
Beginning in 1781 with the Samuel Harrison homestead on the southern end of Amelia Island, Phelts traces the birth of the community to General Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15, in which the Union granted many former Confederate coastal holdings, including Harrison’s property, to former slaves. She then follows the lineage of the first African American families known to have settled in the area to descendants remaining there today, including those of Zephaniah Kingsley and his wife, Anna Jai.
Moving through the Jim Crow era, Phelts describes the development of American Beach’s predecessors in the early 1900s. Finally, she provides the fullest account to date of the life and contributions of Abraham Lincoln Lewis, the wealthy African American businessman who in 1935, as president of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company, initiated the purchase and development of the tract of seashore known as American Beach. From Lewis’s arrival on the scene, Phelts follows the community’s sustained development and growth, highlighting landmarks like the Ocean-Vu-Inn and the Blue Palace and concluding with a stirring plea for the preservation of American Beach, which is currently threatened by encroaching development.
In a narrative full of firsthand accounts and "old-timer" stories, Phelts, who has vacationed at American Beach since she was four and now lives there, frequently adopts the style of an oral historian to paint what is ultimately a personal and intimate portrait of a community rich in heritage and culture.
From Publishers Weekly
For Rymer (Genie), American Beach in northern Florida, the country's first black seaside resort, is a microcosm for the state of race relations in America. It's a weighty subject, which he examines through three stories, the most direct and powerful being the 1989 killing of a contentious but unarmed black motorist, Dennis Wilson, who was the fourth young African American male fatally shot by local law enforcement within five years.
The second story focuses on MaVynee Betsch, a flamboyant opera singer turned penurious environmental activist, whose millionaire great-grandfather built American Beach; and the third story involves the late African American author Zora Neale Hurston, whose hometown of Eatonville, near Disney's planned community, Celebration, is, like American Beach, fighting to retain its cultural roots.
Both the Betsch and Hurston narrative lines seem a little forced, functioning perhaps as pegs for Rymer's description of their respective struggling communities. These latter accounts can also meander, slipping into rhetoric and the occasional excessive gothic metaphor ("One had the impression that the sand walls of American Beach were like the murderous funnel of the doodle bug"). Still, Rymer has created a serious history of racial struggle that reveals the random murder of blacks by the KKK, shows how white development can destroy the character of black towns and inveighs against the corrosive effects of materialistic values on black identity and community spirit. Author tour. (Nov.) FYI: American Beach was the subject of 1997's An American Beach for African Americans, by Marsha Dean Phelts.
Rayne Walker heads to American Beach, Florida, to be with the only father she's ever known. There she meets the scion of the Jefferson real-estate fortune and finds herself falling for him.