The fact you don’t hear MaVynee Oshun Betsch mentioned alongside conservationists like John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and perhaps Rachel Carson says more about who we enshrine in history books than Betsch’s remarkable contributions to the environmental movement and her valiant campaign to save a landmark of Black history.
Betsch was born in 1935 to wealth, and embarked on an international career as an opera singer before returning to her Florida hometown and donating most of her fortune to a long list of environmental causes. But even that pales alongside her dedication to preserving American Beach, a dune-dappled stretch of sand 40 miles northwest of Jacksonville that was among the most popular vacation spots for African Americans during the Jim Crow era.
American Beach is not unique in serving those who were barred by law or by custom from recreation opportunities others took for granted. Black beach communities sprang up in coastal areas nationwide during the first half of the 20th century, with notable examples in Sag Harbor on Long Island and Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. Yet despite the fact such places are significant to Black history, there’s been little effor... Read more