- Years old:
- Color of my eyes:
- I’ve got lustrous green eyes
- My gender:
- What I like to drink:
- I don't have piercings
It would be hard to overstate my amazement. An answering machine!
It would be hard to overstate my amazement.
An answering machine! She resided sporadically in a donated trailer or in loaned basement rooms, but primarily and willfully on a chaise longue on the beach. Now, at the firm insistence of family and friends, she has moved into a small apartment, got herself listed with directory assistance and given up her nomad ways.
Or maybe not. She was not always a hermit at the beach. She was raised in one of the preeminent black families in the South and was educated at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio. She jettisoned more than her diva status. In springMaVynee was diagnosed with cancer, and surgeons removed her stomach. In the fall came worse news: her cancer had recurred and spread, and doctors said she might have only months to live. When MaVynee heard my voice, she picked up the phone MaVynee, already screening her calls!
She wanted to discuss her plans.
MaVynee intends to start a museum. For decades it flourished as an ocean-side paradise for blacks from around the country, who admittedly had little choice.
Which in a way she does: A. Lewis was her great-grandfather. Many of those visiting the Beach in its heyday were likewise illustrious—writer Zora Neale Hurston, heavyweight champion Joe Louis, entertainer Cab Calloway and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph among them. It is the home of one of the first black graduates of Mount Holyoke and the first black Florida supreme court justice since Reconstruction.
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And it is also the home of ordinary folks. And a postman lives over there. Where else in America do maids own beach homes? American Beach was born in a time when black life was dominated by the strictures of Jim Crow.
Shut out from the white economy, African-Americans created their own, and in Philadelphia and Atlanta and Los Angeles and most other major American cities, they lived and shopped in a separate universe parallel to the white one nearby. Jacksonville had its own thriving black stores and restaurants, factories, newspapers, banks, insurance companies and hospitals and, as a direct consequence, its own black professional establishment.
If that establishment was wealthy and educated, it was also invisible to most whites, who tended to think of black people as entertainers, criminals or "the help. And American Beach.
Most of its homes are aging and modest; a few of the grandest have been torn down. And its businesses—the nightclubs, hotels and restaurants that used to throb with activity all summer night—are boarded up.
There are many who think American Beach will not be around much longer, considering the pressure from rich developers. MaVynee vehemently opposed the sale—we are talking, after all, about the same dune over which she envisions flapping her butterfly wings.
She calls it NaNa and grieved its loss as though the dune were a member of her family. The resort preserved it and built a golf course on much of the land behind it. Friends pony up for her pharmacy and phone bills. But those who know her know never to bet against her. In whatever celestial gambling den museum futures are traded, the museum at American Beach may be listed as a long shot.
After all, MaVynee has a way of beating the odds. Case in point: NaNa.
Now, Representative Ander Crenshaw and Senator Bill Nelson, both of Florida, have come to the rescue; they are introducing the necessary legislation. Their evidence is her appearance: her fingernails are very long—until they got clipped in the hospital, those on her left hand spiraled to more than a foot and a half.
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Her hair, coiffed into a wheel over her head, cascades in graying dreadlocks down her back and past her ankles. Her hair and clothes are festooned with political buttons, unfailingly radical and generally funny, most expressing her commitment to social and racial justice, ecological causes and vegetarianism.
Her colorfulness acts as a mighty come-on, especially for children. In this era of corporate scandal, Americans are debating the obligations of the business world and its leaders to society.
No group has confronted those questions more directly than did the black businessmen of A. Herself a vivid relic of that great history, MaVynee has collected many other relics to start her museum: old plate holders that advertise "Negro Ocean Playground," Afro-American Life Insurance Company ashtrays that vow "A Relief in Distress," and a wealth of papers, including 19th-century land deeds and stock certificates and such manuscripts as A.
For years MaVynee kept her stash in milk crates, stored out of the rain in her various way stations. Prospects for the museum at American Beach are looking rosy.
The county is providing a room in a new community center on the outskirts of town. Says Rowena Stewart, former executive director of the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City: "We are planning for photographs, s, posters, clothing of the period—any artifacts we can use to re-create, in this small space, the experience of being at the Beach during the time when its role was so crucial.
And we are tape-recording the recollections of the early residents for an oral history archive. I swear sometimes I think my great-grandfather is looking out for me.
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