Separated Waters

Black Ft Laud On the Beach2.jpgOne of South Florida’s greatest natural cultural resources has always been its beaches. The beaches with their bending palm trees have been the icon that has z tourists to the area for decades. The experiences of African-Americans on these beaches run the full gamut from cultural havens that are the center of community celebrations to cultural advocacy that demanded equal access to these precious waters. Old Dillard Museum is organizing a interpretive exhibition that will highlight both the celebrations and the struggles of African-Americans related to beaches in South Florida, especially focusing on Broward and Dade counties. The title of the exhibit is “Separated Waters: Black Beaches in South Florida.”

The exhibition will precede the re-opening of Dade County’s historic “colored only” beach known as Virginia Key Beach. The Old Dillard Museum exhibit will show that before Dade County first opened its “colored only” beach in 1945, hundreds of African-Americans from Broward, Dade and Palm Beach counties came to Fort Lauderdale to what came to be known as the “black beach” in 1927. The first “black beach” in Broward was a rocky and weed-strewn stretch along Galt Ocean mile. Later when this land was sold to developers a remote beach in Dania became the “black beach.” The Dania beach has since been named John U. Lloyd State Recreation Area.

The photo exhibit will open in late January and run through February of 2008. Virginia Key Beach is scheduled to re-open in Miami in February of 2008. In addition to the exhibit the project will include a printed catalog, a musical concert and presentations by scholars of African-American History.

Funding for this project is provided in part by the Broward County Board of County Commissioners as recommended by the Broward Cultural Council.

Fort Lauderdale's Black Beaches

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In the early days of Fort Lauderdale history, everyone without regard to skin color enjoyed flocking to the city’s Las Olas beach. On weekends hundreds of black people from as far away as Miami and West Palm Beach came to the area. Then in 1927 Jim Crow standards of separation led to the establishment of a designated area for black beach goers.
Responding to the complaints of beach front property owners, the city of Fort Lauderdale confined blacks to area of beaches that would later become known as Galt Ocean Mile. The city issued instructions to the Police Department to confine black beach goers to this rock and weed-strewn beach that was a remote point just beyond the northern end of the Las Olas beach, yet south of Florida. Floranda land owners also has complained about blacks near their homes.

Although this was the first “black beach” it was generally shared by everyone. According to pioneer funeral director George Benton, “the one beach enjoyed by all was located at the site where Galt Ocean Mile is now located. If a group of blacks was on the beach and a group of whites came out to swim, the whites would just move further down and vice versa.”
Then in the early 1950s the Galt Ocean Mile land was bought by developers. Black bathers were without a beach.  In 1954, less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Plessy v. Ferguson in the landmark decision known as Brown v. Board of Education, black residents demanded a beach. Broward County purchased the Negro Beach south of Port Everglades on September 21, 1954 for $1.6 million. The Dania Beach became the new black beach.

Sadly there was no road to the beach. Black beach goers had to ferry there aboard a boat called the Jungle Queen or drive across torturous terrain. The struggle for a road to the beach eventually became a campaign for equal access to all beaches. Between 1961 and 1963 community leaders such as Eula Mae Johnson and Dr. Von D. Mizell successfully fought for the right of blacks to swim where every they pleased.

Virginia Key Beach August 1, 1945, Virginia Key Beach was established as the only public beach and recreation facility for “the exclusive use of Negroes” in what was then known as Dade County, Florida. The establishment of the “Negro” beach was a significant victory during the early days of the Civil Rights movement. Virginia Key Beach Park served as a cherished locale for the South Florida community until the Park was transferred to the City of Miami and closed in 1982.

In June 1999, the City of Miami established the Virginia Key Beach Civil Rights Task Force in response to a broad citizen protest against leasing the historic site to private developers for an exclusive resort. In 2001, the Miami City Commission established the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust to oversee the development of the historic Park property. The Trust has been working diligently to restore and preserve this historical treasure. 
In August 2002, the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and given a Florida Historical Marker. The 82.5 acre property is located at 4020 Virginia Beach Drive, off Rickenbacker Causeway.