Voices of American Beach

A collaboration by three women with ties to the iconic beach, Life on American Beach: Voices from Within shares the story of American Beach today through reflections from its residents.

A collaboration of three women who are property owners at American Beach on Amelia Island has resulted in a new book, Life on American Beach: Voices from Within. Beverly Davis, Berta Arias, and Marsha Phelps agree that the book was truly a labor of love. The new book is not a history book; rather, it is a collection of essays and observations shared by 51 people who make American Beach home.

The three editors bring a variety of experiences and interests to Amelia Island and America Beach. Marsha Phelps, a fifth-generation Floridian, remembers the glory days of American Beach. She came as a child with her family, partied on the beach as an adult, and is now a full-time resident. Two of her published books are An American Beach for African Americans and The American Beach Cookbook.

Berta Arias, born in Havana, Cuba, will soon build her American Beach home. She is a trustee of the Property Owners Association and the Amelia Island Museum of History. Beverly Davis, a Midwesterner, published poet, essayist, and educator, is a member of the A.L. Lewis Museum and sits on the boards of the American Beach Property Owners Association and Friends of American Beach.

In 1935, compelled by segregation and inspired by the leadership of its president, Abraham Lincoln (A. L.) Lewis, the Jacksonville-based Afro-American Life Insurance Company purchased 33 acres along the Atlantic Ocean on Amelia Island and named it American Beach. It became an enclave for African Americans who wished to vacation on the beaches of north Florida and a place for many to build homes.

The book results from the encouragement and backing of Mark and Donna Paz-Kaufman of Story & Song Center for Arts & Culture. Each of the editors is a frequent visitor to the busy island bookstore. In a conversation with Beverly, Donna asked if she might be interested in writing a book on American Beach. Yes, she said, if the book shared the current story and stories of the American Beach. It could. Beverly invited Berta and Marsha to join her. Each agreed and got together to generate a list of 15 possible essayists. Beverly collected the voices.

The trio of editors expressed their delight and surprise that residents were so quick to share their memories, stories, and concerns about the place they live in and love. The final count was 19 essays and 32 voices.

The theme of community rings true throughout the 130-page book. Some contributed thoughtful essays, while others contributed quick thoughts or reflections. Each offers their perspective. There is nostalgia for the “old days” and concern about the future. Passion is evident, as is a commitment to preserving and protecting what is treasured.

A unique community within a community, American Beach continues to be cherished by the descendants of those families who first built houses there in the 1930s and those who later found its magic and now make it home. The community has survived segregation, nature’s fury in the form of hurricanes, and internal political struggles. Life on American Beach: Voices from Within, the most recent book on American Beach, is a valuable resource for those wanting to learn more about American Beach, its fascinating history, and life there today.

The book, introduced at the first annual Festival of Stories & Songs on February 3 at the Story & Song
Center for Arts & Culture, is available at Story & Song Bookstore and the A.L. Lewis Museum at America Beach for $18.95. A percentage of all sales will be donated to the A.L. Lewis Museum at American Beach.

For more information about the book and American Beach, visit their websites at www.allewismuseum.org and www.storyandsongarts.org.