Little Known Black History Fact: Virginia Key Beach, Paradise Lost

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  • Virginia Key Beach was designed as a unique vacation spot strictly for blacks in 1945. Built in Dade County, Virginia Key Beach was the answer to Florida’s whites-only beach problem pre-civil rights. Prior to its establishment, NAACP activists staged a “wade-in” at nearby Baker’s Haulover Beach, which was whites-only. Although the organization had hoped for a spectacle and arrest, the city officials refused to acknowledge their request and decided to address the issue with segregation. That prompted the birth of “Virginia Key Beach, a Dade County Park for the exclusive use of Negroes,” in 1945.

    For two years after its creation, black families from across the country visited the beach, which was accessible by boat only. When Rickenbacker Causeway was built in 1947, it connected Virginia Key and Key Biscayne with land, making it possible to travel by vehicle to the half-mile long beach.

    The beach property was equipped with a mini-railroad that carried people from one side to the next. There was a carousel, which has been restored for park-goers today.

    Conditions of Virginia Key Beach began to decline when the nearby white beach residents of Crandon needed a place to pump sewage and dump garbage. They utilized the nearest outlet of Virginia Key Beach. Although the environmental conditions became unfavorable, blacks continued to frequent the beach until post-civil rights when segregation was banned and blacks could go to the larger former whites-only beaches. By 1982, Virginia Key Beach had been transferred to the City of Miami and transformed to park status. It was soon closed and abandoned due to lack of maintenance funds from the city.

    Through the careful consideration and responsibility of a small group of city activists in Miami, Virginia Key Beach was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and given a Florida historical marker in fall 2002.

    In just 2008, the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust re-opened the site and it is now Florida’s ecological paradise. The Miami Seaquarium is a marine park on Virginia Key that has one of the world’s largest collections of marine animals. The new site showcases the historic bathhouse and includes a mountain biking park.

    The Board of Trustees and staff of Virginia Key Beach Park Trust now invite beach seekers to enjoy the historic Biscayne Virginia Rickenbacker Central, which once toted black families of the 1940’s around the first black beach in America.

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