Saving American Beach

Promotional image of the book Saving American Beach: The Biography of African American Environmentalist MaVynee Betsch. The book is centered in the image, with shells and garbage around it. The book is resting in sand.


AASL Standards Framework for Learners: Inquire/Think I.A.1 Learners display curiosity and initiative by formulating questions about a personal interest or a curricular topic.

What would compel you to give up everything and fight for justice? For opera singer MaVynee Betsch, it was saving American Beach.

When MaVynee was little, laws prevented Black people from swimming on many beaches. MaVynee’s grandfather, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, wanted to change this for his family. He purchased beach property and opened it for all to enjoy. Lewis named the oasis American Beach, and MaVynee loved spending time there.

MaVynne grew up and performed around the world as an opera singer. Her travel left little time to visit American Beach. She missed her childhood playground by the sea.

When MaVynne returned to American Beach, she was sad to see how much it changed. Nobody was taking care of the oceanfront property. Garbage littered the sand and water. Dilapidated cottages fell in disrepair. MaVynee wanted to change this. She cleaned the beach and made it her home.

Developers started appraising the property all around the beach. They wanted to build condominiums. MaVynee would not stand for that. She began a creative protest to grab people’s attention. She grew her hair into a long, thick rope and attached protest pins and shells to the braid.

When MaVynee found a captive audience, she talked about the history of the beach. She asked people to help her protect the spot. She wrote letters and spoke to lawmakers.

Her relentless work made a difference. A note from the author informs readers that American Beach is now protected. It is part of the National Park Service and the Florida Black Heritage Trail. American Beach is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

Double-page spread of Saving American Beach: The Biography of African American Environmentalist MaVynee Betsch. The illustration shows people playing on American Beach.

Lesson Activity

AASL Standards Framework for Learners: Inquire/Think Learners display curiosity and initiative by formulating questions about a personal interest or a curricular

Introduce the book by asking learners why people enjoy the beach. Explain that we are fortunate because there are people who help take care of the beach. Tell learners that you are going to read a story about a woman who dedicated her life to protect one beach. Say, “Let’s read and find out why it was so important for her to save American Beach.”

Ask the following questions while you read the story:

  • “After looking at the cover and reading the title, what questions do you have?” (cover)
  • “What questions do you have about American history after seeing the dividing rope in the water?” (pp. 3-4)
  • “What do you want to know about Mr. Abraham Lincoln Lewis?” (pp. 5-8)
  • “How does the ocean influence MaVynne’s career?” (pp. 9-12)
  • “What changes do you notice on the beach? Why do you suppose this happened?” (pp. 17-18)
  • “What do you suppose the author means when she writes that ‘MaVynne was saving more than a beach’?” (pp. 9-12)
  • “How do you suppose growing long hair helped MaVynee with her protest?” (pp. 28-30)
  • “Why do you think the author wrote this story? What questions do you have after reading the note from the author and illustrator?”

After reading the story, invite readers to share what they would like to investigate. Explore the American Beach Museum’s website to find answers to questions. Consider emailing the museum with a note of appreciation. Their work continues to inform people about the important history of American Beach.

Readers may also want to write to author Heidi Tyline King and illustrator Ekua Holmes for sharing this incredible piece of history with us.

If you like these lesson ideas, please take a look at our book, Lessons Inspired by Picture Books for Primary Grades. This resource includes ready-to-go lesson plans that meet the standards. Worksheets, assessments and rubrics are included

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