Discussion in 'Black People Open Forum' started by Isaiah, Jan 24, 2006.

  1. Isaiah

    Isaiah Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Jun 8, 2004
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    Saturday in the South

    Put yourself in the place of a pleasant Saturday morning. Your work is done for the week and it's time to go into town. You make a list of the things you need to buy, and if there is money left over you might buy yourself a treat. You're ready to go, and into town you drive.
    You are in Texarkana, Arkansas or Texas, driving into town from Highway 71 North. You travel past fields of cattle and horses, and you go past the railyard. Take a left on Fourth Street and down to Ash. Take a left on Ash and then a right on to Broad. You are at the lip of downtown and you're joined by other cars and shoppers. It's crowded today, because others doing the same thing you are: taking in a Saturday in the South.

    Some 2000 miles east, a family is getting ready for a Saturday at the beach. This day on the southern tip of Florida's Amelia Island is special because that family is going to a beach that is their own. This is American Beach, developed in the 1930s for African Americans, by A.L. Lewis.

    The Jamison

    In Texarkana you are at home because this is your town. On American Beach, swimmers and players are at home with family and friends. This essay is about two places where African Americans felt to home from the 1930s to today. These were Saturday places for some, and week-long places for others: Florida's American Beach and the Jamison Building around the corner from Broad on Third and Oak Streets in Texarkana. These are places where safety and a sense of shelter contributed to a sense of home in the South.

    The year was 1924. Texarkana, Texas, like most of the South was lorded over by Jim Crow segregation. But segregation, while detestable, didn't have to signify total degradation and denial for African Americans. In fact, it was something on which the African American community could capitalize. According to the Bowie County Court records, "… on the 26th day of July A.D. 1924, … J.S. Young and his wife Lena Young and J. R. Johnson conveyed to G.U. Jamison, T.E. Speed, W.T. Thompson, and A.W. Weatherford lots numbered 17 and 18 in block numbered 24 in the city of Texarkana, Bowie County, Texas for a consideration of $10,000."

    Dr. G.U. Jamison

    The plan was to build a structure to house businesses and services benefiting the African American community in and around Texarkana. The building would house offices and shops for physicians, dentists, beauty shop operators and others. This would be a building conceived by African Americans for African Americans. Amidst fanfare, the building, called the Jamison, Weatherford, Thompson Building, opened in 1930. Jamison and Thompson were physicians, Weatherford was a funeral director.

    The building still stands. Two stories tall, the red brick exterior is accented on the second story by "V" shaped configurations of sandy colored brick, making the building look like a cake with coffee ice cream dripping down the side. The second floor contains ten office suites. The first floor is a series of six spaces for small businesses. Each space is a series of rooms extending from the street east to a parking g lot.

    The Texarkana City Directory records the development of the building as an important center of commerce for African Americans. In 1931 there were five businesses with telephones: Eugene Randall, DDS Theron Jones, Attorney at Law; Federal Life and Casualty; Fraternal Bonding Company; and William Thompson, MD By 1955, five businesses grew to 14.

    Conceived out of necessity, the building became a member of a family of focal points for the African American community. Mr. William Isom, who has lived in Texarkana since the 1940s called the building, known to many as the Jamison Building, a "jumping place." Roscoe Jones, a lawyer whose offices have been in the building since 1957 suggests that while the building once housed a dynamic business center, it suffered with the city's move into integration and urban renewal.

    The focal point made unclear. The mission to sustain a business center for African Americans was lost. And thus in the 1960s and 1970s the commercial functions of the building were diminished.

    But not all is lost, it never is. Due to the success of the Jamison Building, the building in and of itself has become a home. It is a place where an African American can still go unquestioned for legal services, a hair cut, or a chance to socialize over a game of dominoes. A Saturday in Texarkana.

    Along the 500 block of West Third St., the brick building with coffee ice cream frosting looks more like something in a ghost town.

    Standifer's Recreation Center

    But step into Standifer's Recreation. Look around at the tables and stools. Imagine men sitting around a table. Listen to the banter and the slap and clatter of dominoes on the table. Noble Heath straddles a stool. "Now we're cooking with gas", he says while shuffling the domino pieces. The banter is devoted to the game, and the game is devoted to the fine skill of socializing with old friends.
    For the gentlemen who visit Standifers Recreation Center, the place, although dark and chilly , is a home away from the house. It is their place to go without being questioned. Almost always the men come to play dominoes and visit. They might not talk all that much, but talk isn't the point to going to the Jamison. Being in a place where one feels a part is.

    Standifers Recreation Center

    I first met the gentlemen of the Jamison in 1991. By 1999, they had all died. I noted that two businesses, the barber shop and the lawyer's office were still open for business. No longer a home away from home, the Jamison continues as a "jumping place" in the memories of those who knew and used it as a safe place, a home base from which to do business and life.

    American Beach

    American Beach Abraham Lincoln Lewis was an ambitious, civic minded man who knew the financial and social benefits of land ownership. In the 1920s, Mr. Lewis began to acquire land around Jacksonville, Florida. By 1947 he owned more property than any African American in the Sunshine State.

    In 1928, Mr. Lewis was the President of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company in Jacksonville, Florida. One of the perks of working for the company was to go on company outings to the beach. But the outings had to be scheduled at times when African Americans could go to the beach segregated from Whites. Lewis, noting the positive response to the beach outings, decided to purchase land in and around the beach that his staff and friends could enjoy full-time. By 1935, Lewis and colleagues had purchased 216 acres with a half mile beach front on the southern tip of Amelia Island.

    This was a new thing. Land owned by African Americans for African Americans. Construction of private residences began as soon as the land was secured and cleared. The result was the community called American Beach.

    Unlike many housing communities in the Amelia Island area. American beach owners did not dictate the design or layout of houses. There are ranch-like houses, and there are houses on stilts. Each house represents residents' unique concepts of house and home. Over the years some home fronts have been decorate with such adornments as life preservers, tableaux of fishing, and a shrine to the Virgin Mary. Each expression reached out, not only to the residents, but to those who walked the gritty paved roads to the beach.

    I went to the beach on a hot, cloudy day in June 1999. City buildings gave way to sandy walkways and palm trees as I drove out of Jacksonville to Fernandina Beach. Soon the palm trees began to frame housing developments whose realtors advertised for their privacy and proximity to golf courses and horse stables. I continued on Highway A1A until I came to a sign pointing to American Beach. I turned left on to a tree lined county road and drove about two miles to another sign pointing me further to the Beach.

    As I headed down a narrow road I was greeted with a sign decorated with an American flag: "American Beach, founded January 31, 1935. Follow the Black Heritage Trail."

    And so I did. I drove the narrow bumpy road, feeling myself slipping away from housing developments, golf courses, and horse stables. The road was empty and except for the sound of my truck in fourth gear, I heard nothing. Absolute, wonderful silence.

    I didn't drive far, and soon I slipped further away into what felt like an earlier time. I was surrounded by houses, and I faced the ocean. This was American Beach, a resort home for some, and a permanent historical mark for others.

    I drove through a grid of streets name for prominent citizens and leaders within the Afro American Life Insurance Company: Lewis, Gregg, Weldon, and Price. The houses were visible from each street, and some decoratively identified the owner. Once home had an assemblage of African sculptures. Another hosted fish and life preservers. As I said, home decoration was not dictated here. Each family marked their homes according to their own tastes.

    The place was empty. If there were summer houses, people would come to them soon enough in this summer heat. As for those who made American Beach their full-time home, they were probably off from work. Nonetheless, American Beach was alive and well in 1999.

    The beach lay before me, endless-looking beyond the sand. This was Lewis' half mile ocean front. The beach was empty at mid-day, mid-week. My dog and I slip-slided through the sand along the water's edge. Not being a water person, I still marveled at the expanse before me. I understood why people, In the 1940s, came from as far as Washington, DC came to do the same thing.

    The Jamison and American Beach were created from pride, care and understanding. Home isn't something just found in the house or church. It is found with people, with community and a sense of belonging. Sometimes people have to consciously craft something that should be a part of the gut. The Jamison Building and American Beach are two such creations, where the right to a feeling of home was paramount.


    The Jamison Building and American Beach are just beginning to receive research recognition. My knowledge of the Jamison comes from the fact that between 1990 and 1997 my office was located three blocks away from the building. In 1993 I conducted extensive fieldwork at the building with photojournalist Tracy Glantz. See "Inside the Jamison," Texarkana Gazette. 23 May 1993.
    Marsha Dean Phelts is the chronicler of American Beach. Mrs. Phelts was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida and frequented the beach. Her book An American Beach for African Americans (1997. Gainesville: University Press of Florida) is an excellent community history of the beach.

  2. Omowale Jabali

    Omowale Jabali The Cosmic Journeyman PREMIUM MEMBER

    United States
    Sep 29, 2005
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    Creative Industrialist
    Temple of Kali, Yubaland

    I need to do some more traveling!