Monday, February 12, 2007
7 News Features: Black History Month: Virginia Key Beach
As you know, February is Black History Month. And, each week, we're going to take a look at locations that played a fundamental role in shaping, defining, and redefining the African American experience in South Florida. This morning, we profile Virginia Key Beach. Here's 7's Joel Brown.
WSVN -- 61 years and it's back to the beach on Virginia Key.
A new generation mixed in with the old.
The message to the young: This isn't just a beach, it's history -- yours.
Garth Reeves, Virginia Key Beach Trustee: "This was the only thing we had, and rather than not be able to swim in Miami-Dade County at all, we had one place to swim."
Gene Tinnie, Virginia Key Beach Trustee: "It was totally unofficial, but it was understood that this was where African-Americans could go."
In 1945, Miami-Dade County made it official. A renovated Virginia Key Beach designated "colored only." Neighboring Crandon Park is built for just whites, and blacks faced arrest for violating the color codes.
But through the years an unmistakable pride built among the black beach-goers.
Gene Tinnie: "Unlike other segregated parks around the south, this one had all the amenities that were at Crandon, so it really came a lot closer to being separate but equal."
So, in separate, blacks viewed Virginia Key as a piece of paradise: an oasis from the prejudice back on the mainland, a place where preachers could baptize the faithful, a place where children could circle around on a carousel.
Guy Forchune, Director of Operations: "As kind of the understood spot where you go to the beach, you go for a picnic, you meet the rest of the community, out at the beach."
From the 1960's, comes integration. There were less beach-goers but Virginia Key still thrived. That's up until the 80s. City money dried up and life on the Key wilted along with it.
Guy Forchune: " Virginia Key Beach wasn't kept up, the buildings were falling in disrepair, the train and carousel were not working."
Now there's work for the beach's re-birth, with millions of dollars from the Virgina Beach Park Trust.
Plans include a park along 82 acres of land off-limits to developers.
Planners even bringing back the old mini-train, one of Virginia Key's most popular rides.
Garth Reeves: "It's a great history, and I hope that this train will be a moving train that will show how far we have come and how far we have to go."
And one day, on the new Virginia Key, a museum is to be built.
Out of these sands there'll be a structure to remember the colorful history of these shores.
It's all an effort to never forget.