An opera singer, environmentalist, and activist. Known as The Beach Lady for her efforts to preserve the beach and its inhabitants.
Born Marvyne Elisabeth Betsch in Jacksonville, Florida, to a wealthy Southern black family. Her great-grandfather, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, was the first Black millionaire in Florida who founded American beach in Amelia Island, Florida, the largest vacation resort for black families during the Jim Crow era.
From a young age, Betsch showed musical talent, and by the age of 5, she played the piano. She went on to study piano at Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio, but after seeing the opera Aida, she changed her course to vocal studies. In 1955, at the age of 20, she traveled to Europe to sharpen her skills. She studied voice in London and Paris, and within four years, she had her opera debut in Braunschweig, Germany. The crowd loved her, and she received accolades for her interpretations of Carmen and Salome.
After ten years abroad, Betsch returned to the US and found out that the legacy of her great-grandfather was in danger. American Beach’s maintenance was neglected throughout the years, and with the desegregation of the beaches in 1964, the black community could choose better locations for its vacation. Betsch decided to fight for the preservation of the beach.
In 1975, 40 years old Betsch gave up her singing career, moved to her great-grandfather’s beach house, and began to dedicate her time and efforts to protect American Beach and its inhabitants from development and destruction. She became active in various environmental organizations, gave tours about the American Beach and its black history, made media appearances to raise awareness of its historical and ecological importance, and spoke with passers-by about it. Her work gained her the nickname The Beach Lady. Betsch donated all her life earnings, of about $750,000, to environmental charities, studies, and projects. When she ran out of money, she sold her family home and slept at friends’ houses and even on a chair on the beach. Her sister rented for her a small trailer, and Betsch turned it into a museum about American Beach.
In 2002, at 67, Betsch was diagnosed with cancer and had surgery to remove her stomach. Instead of slowing her down, her declining health motivated her to do more. In the same year, she saw her efforts paying off when the American Beach became a National Register of Historic Places. In her last years, she worked on establishing the American Beach Museum, which opened in 2014, 9 years after her death.
an AMERICAN BEACH
In north Florida on Amelia Island, MaVynee Betsch, aka The Beach Lady, fights to preserve the history and conserve the environment of the Black beach community her Great-Grandfather, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, founded in 1935.
This post is also available in:
- She never married and did not have children.
- She is the older sister of the anthropologist Johnnetta B. Cole, who was the first black woman to serve as the president of Spelman College and Bennett College.
- She changed her name from Marvyne to MaVynee – she added the letter E for the environment and dropped the letter R, protesting for the damaging environmental policies of the Reagan administration.
- For 20 years, she did not cut her hair, which grew seven feet long and reached her ankles.
- To prove that human cells can grow naturally without protein from meat, she did not cut her nails in one of her hands.
- One of her successful campaigns was against developing the tallest dune system of Florida Atlantic Coast. Today, the NaNa Dune is named after her and owned by the National Park Service.
- The recorded message on her answering machine was- " This is the Beach Lady. If you’re getting this message, it may be because I have turned into a butterfly and floated out over the sand dune."
- She is the subject of a documentary film titled The Beach Lady.
- The MaVynee #1151 Atlantic-traveling whale bears her name.
- A butterfly textbook was dedicated to her.
- Posthumously honored as an Unsung Hero of Compassion by the Dalai Lama (2005)
- Posthumously honored with the Gullah/Geechee Anointed Spirit Award (2015)
Sorry, no records were found. Please adjust your search criteria and try again.
Sorry, unable to load the Maps API.
an AMERICAN BEACHIn north Florida on Amelia Island, MaVynee Betsch, aka The Beach Lady, fights to preserve the history and conserve the environment of the Black beach community her Great-Grandfather, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, founded in 1935.
This post is also available in: Español