Virginia Key, the beach of Miami symbol of the fight for civil rights

It was assigned in August 1945 for the use of “colored people”

A Miami beach marks the history of racial segregation in the United States: Virginia Beach, assigned in August 1945 for the use of “colored people” , when all were only for whites, and today converted into a park that its Eco- History Tour invites you to know and enjoy to the fullest. It all started on Haulover beach (Miami metropolitan area) in 1945, after a peaceful act of civil disobedience carried out by a group of blacks.

A little over 75 years ago, those young people who arrived on a May day in their swimsuits at Haulover beach dared to defy the segregationist laws and jumped into the sea . They were not afraid of being arrested. Police refrained from any action, no arrests were made, and three months later, in August, authorities officially designated Virginia Key a “colored people only” beach.

Virginia Beach, a first victory for African Americans

It was a celebrated victory. Despite being a smaller beach than others in South Florida and only accessible by sea at the time, the Afro-Colombian community immediately made it theirs and made it a favorite place for recreation and getaways. “For years there was no beach for people of color in South Florida, black American residents and visitors from other states who came did not have a place to play on public beaches ,” Guy Forchion, executive director, told Efe. of the current Virginia Key Beach Historical Park.

Soon, this lush tropical islet sandbar incorporated barbecue and picnic areas, a boat ramp, a canteen serving soda and hot dogs , a dance pavilion, and even a merry-go-round and a mini-train that ran the park, two attractions that became very popular. In fact, civil rights hero Martin Luther King (assassinated on April 4, 1968) and legendary boxer Mohamed Ali took more than one dip in Virginia Beach.

Forchion agrees when speaking of the success of the beach in 1945, but a conditioned, relative success, he says, if we take into account that “there was no bridge for two years!”, that is, “here is your island… you can get to it.”

Thus, a provision of funds was needed for the purchase of a ferry that linked the Miami River (Miami River) with Virginia Beach and returned in the evening. Of course, ” those who missed the ferry were stranded on the island” until the next day, he comments jovially.

The beginning, a peaceful act of civil disobedience

It all started in Haulover. Because that act of disobedience, what would later be called the “wave-in” movement (splash, but with resonance of black spirituals), became one of the first triggers of the fight for civil rights not only in Florida, but throughout the south of the nation. They were a series of “planned” actions of peaceful disobedience, of civic activism ” fueled by (African-American) soldiers returning from the front lines of World War II .”

Forchion calls it a “double victory for black American soldiers: victory abroad, against the German Nazis, and victory back home by coming back and having what they demanded, the same rights.” “They got into the water expecting to be arrested, hoping to create a legal issue before the courts about that injustice: that of being a taxpayer, paying taxes that were destined for the beaches and not having the right to visit them, to use public places,” Forchion says.

A man collects his belongings near a sign that says

A man gathers his belongings near a sign that reads “For Colored People Only” PHOTO: Historic Virginia Key Beach Park Historic Virginia Key Beach Park

He infamous book: “Solo persons of color”

But there it was for years, stuck in the sand of Virginia Beach, a pole with a sign that said “Dade County Parks. Va. Beach. Colored Only” (Dade County Parks. Virginia Beach. Only people of color), symbol of racial segregation. Sign and signal of discrimination that for decades prevented black Americans from sharing public and private spaces with the white population in most southern states .

Virginia Beach was the first beach open to black people in Miami, but in the 1920s it may have changed history when black millionaire DA Dorsey bought Fisher Island, across from Miami Beach, today an exclusive island with one of the richest zip codes in the United States. Dorsey had one wish: to ensure that blacks, systematically excluded from all beaches in Miami-Dade County, would have their own.

However, due to the sharp increase in taxes, he was forced to sell the land, so the community was soon left without being able to enjoy the sun, sea and sand.

The historic carousel

The historic carousel PHOTO

Death and Resurrection of Virginia Beach

Since 1947, the Rickenbacker Causeway has connected Miami with the barrier islands of Virginia Key and Key Biscayne (Key Biscayne), this second enclave belonging to the prosperous town of the same name and a privileged area for water sports. But while its neighbor Key Biscayne prospered, the beautiful park of Virginia Key, dependent on the city of Miami, languished, fell into oblivion, deteriorated due to lack of maintenance and services . Until the mayor’s office made the decision in 1982 to definitively close it to the public. We had to wait until 1999 to see this public park reborn.

El minitren

The minitrain PHOTO

In August 2002, the park was added to the list of the United States National Register of Historic Places , and, in 2008, with the recovery of old attractions of the past such as the merry-go-round and the mini-train, it was reopened with a new impetus. .

Today this place, witness to racial segregation and days of happiness and beach for the black community, annually attracts some 100,000 visitors eager to enjoy a bike ride, walk through its 86 hectares of dense vegetation or take a simple swim and eat in the shade of a picnic area.

The organization, explains Forchion, contemplates ambitious plans for improvements and renovation of this “paradise”, such as the aforementioned History-Eco Tour or the construction of a museum, in addition to the reopening this year of the mini-train. 

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