Pensacola’s Rosamond Johnson Beach stands as a living monument to the heroic efforts of an under-aged Army private from the Gulf Islands region.
Private Rosamond Johnson was the first soldier from the area killed in the Korean War, and this pristine beach area was named in his honor shortly after his death. Johnson, who was from Escambia County, was 15 when he joined the Army. On July 26, 1950, Johnson pulled two wounded soldiers to safety during the conflict. While carrying a third, Johnson was killed. He was 17.
Johnson was awarded the Purple Heart medal for his heroics on August 21, 1950. In Pensacola, the Jim Crow segregation laws were in effect across many of the area beaches. The Gulf beach area was where many Black families played and vacationed, and there were designated “Blacks-only” beaches along the Seashore. The region that would become Johnson Beach was a county-owned area that was leased by the Sunset Riding Club in 1950.
The lease was lost six years later, but the renaming of the beach remained in place. In 1973, the beach came under the recognition of the Gulf Islands National Seashore on May 8, 1973. On June 10, 1996, a memorial was dedicated to Johnson’s memory at the beach. Veteran groups are still seeking greater honor for the fallen Johnson.
The beach’s Blacks-only distinction is a thing of the distant past and it has become one of the area’s most pristine destinations. The irony of this is that many whites have now come to regard Johnson Beach as one of the Seashore’s best as well, with some whispers that a manner of shoreline gentrification might be occurring.