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The Orlando Sentinel, Fla., Florida Flashback column: Florida's black heritage is celebrated in an updated and expanded state publication
[February 24, 2008]

The Orlando Sentinel, Fla., Florida Flashback column: Florida's black heritage is celebrated in an updated and expanded state publication

(Orlando Sentinel, The (FL) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Feb. 24--I never spoke to the Beach Lady, and for that I have some regret about being so timid.

Like her beloved American Beach up on Amelia Island, MaVynee Betsch was 70 when cancer caught up with her in 2005.

Apparently her name -- pronounced Ma-VEEN -- began as Marvyne, but she told more than one interviewer she had removed the R from her name when Ronald Reagan became president. His view of the world wasn't hers.

But by the time I did at least glimpse Beach Lady MaVynee, on her beach and in a crowd at a Jacksonville concert, she seemed to be in this world but not of it -- some kind of exotic goddess looking over her beloved, endangered strip of sand.

Here's one description: "With her seven-foot long dreadlocks, her [political] buttons and her love of the heritage left by her great-grandmother, MaVynee Oshun Betsch made for an impressive figure, standing between the historic American Beach, Florida, and those who would develop this piece of American history."

Founded by MaVynee's great-grandfather, millionaire insurance magnate A.L. Lewis, American Beach in its day had been "the African-American Hyannis Port, where the cr?me de la cr?me of black society came to relax in the Jim Crow South."

Interesting? You bet, and it's just one of the indications of Florida's rich African-American history included in Florida Black Heritage Trail, a 64-page publication now in its third edition and available from Visit Florida, the state's public-private tourism promoter.

It's one of several "heritage trail" publications from the state, including Florida Jewish Heritage Trail, co-authored by Central Florida's Rachel Heimovics.

The latest edition of Black Heritage Trail has been updated and expanded since the first edition several years ago and includes biographical sketches of many interesting folks, including the Beach Lady, as well as lists of black-heritage sites across the state.

Some sites are functioning museums; others are private dwellings not open to the public. But together, the list shows the depth and variety of the heritage of African-Americans in Florida. (It's a great resource for teachers.)

The Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts in Eatonville is featured, as is the Wells'Built Museum of African-American History and Culture in Orlando, the Hannibal Square neighborhood in Winter Park and many other area sites.

Here are just a few of the included spots on the "trail":

*The Moseley House, 11 Taylor St., Eatonville. Built about 1889, this is the second-oldest structure remaining in Eatonville and "one of two remaining examples of the pre-1900 wood-frame houses typical of the town," according to Black Heritage Trail. It has been restored and is furnished with period furniture.

Matilda Clark Moseley, a niece of one of Eatonville's founders, Joseph E. Clark, was married to Jim Moseley, the son of Sam Moseley, Eatonville's fourth mayor. Matilda or "Tillie" was a good friend of Zora Neale Hurston's in childhood, and Hurston was a frequent visitor to the house.

*The Nicholson-Colyer Building, 29 W. Church St., Orlando. Just around the corner from Orange Avenue on the north side of Church, this late Victorian brick commercial building dates from 1911, when it was built by J.E. Nicholson, a Canadian grocer and baker, and J.A. Colyer, a black businessman, listed in Orlando's 1907 city directory as a "merchant and tailor."

*John R. Hurston House, 621 E. Sixth St., Sanford. The Rev. John Hurston, father of author Zora Neale Hurston, and his second wife, Mattie, once lived in this private residence.

*Mary McLeod Bethune House, 641 Pearl St., Daytona Beach. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1974, this two-story frame vernacular home was the pioneering educator's home from the time it was built in the 1920s until her death in 1955. Now a museum, it contains original furnishings.

Visitors may tour the home, including the guest room where Bethune's friend first lady Eleanor Roosevelt stayed, and Bethune's grave.

*St. Rita's Black History Museum, 314 N. Duss St., New Smyrna Beach. Built in 1899, this former church was one of the few houses of worship for black Roman Catholics in Central Florida.

In 1999, it was restored and converted to a small museum that includes Florida East Coast Railroad artifacts and photos from Chisholm High School, the first black school in Volusia County, according to the Trail booklet.

The free museum is open from noon to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and by appointment.

Read more about it

For more about MaVynee Betsch, go to the Web site of filmmaker Erica McCarthy,, and click on "the Beach Lady" links.

You can access an online electronic book of Florida Black Heritage Trail, at To order copies (the cost is $8.50), go to or call 850-245-6396.

The status of black women

In honor of Black History Month, the Orange County Regional History Center invites everyone to a lecture by Dr. Cheryll R. Hardison-Dayton of Bethune-Cookman University on Friday.

Her topic is the status of black women in America from the 1960s to today.

The history center is at 65 E. Central Blvd. in Orlando. Doors open at 7 p.m. for a reception with a cash bar; the program is at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free but seating is limited; call 407-836-8580.

Joy Wallace Dickinson can be reached at [email protected] or 407-420-6082, or by good old-fashioned letter at the Sentinel, 633 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, FL 32801.

To see more of The Orlando Sentinel or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to

Copyright (c) 2008, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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