top of page

Saving American Beach

The Biography of African American Environmentalist MaVynee Betsch



G.P Putnam's Sons

(pub.4.13.2021) 40 pages

Author: Heidi Tyline King

Illustrator: Ekua Holmes

Character: MaVynee Betsch


"MaVynee loved going to the beach. But in the days of Jim Crow, she couldn't just go to any beach--most of the beaches in Jacksonville were for whites only. Knowing something must be done, her grandfather bought a beach that African American families could enjoy without being reminded they were second class citizens; he called it American Beach. Artists like Zora Neale Hurston and Ray Charles vacationed on its sunny shores. It's here that MaVynee was first inspired to sing, propelling her to later become a widely acclaimed opera singer who routinely performed on an international stage. But her first love would always be American Beach.

After the Civil Rights Act desegregated public places, there was no longer a need for a place like American Beach and it slowly fell into disrepair. MaVynee remembered the importance of American Beach to her family and so many others. So determined to preserve this integral piece of American history, she began her second act as an activist and conservationist, ultimately saving the place that had always felt most like home." Tantalizing taste:

"MaVynee adored her beach.

At water's edge, the sandy shore became a stage.

For each performance,

the wind whispered an endless melody

of gull cries and laughter.

It made her heart sing.

When she grew up,

MaVynee discovered the same music in the opera.

She left her beloved beach to sing stories

around the world."

And something more: Ekua Holmes writes in the back of the book: "Many of the illustrations feature orange butterflies. Orange was MaVynee's favorite color, and she loved all the creatures of the air, especially birds, butterflies, and insects. MaVynee painted her lips and fingernails (which at one time she grew to over a foot long!) in orange as a reminder of the orange rope that was used to separate blacks and whites at beaches during the Jim Crow era... At her memorial service, hundreds of orange butterflies were released to fly over American Beach, honoring MaVAynee's tremendous and colorful spirit."


bottom of page