On January 13, we take the time to honor one of the people that has been inducted into the “Gullah/Geechee Hall of Fame.” The Beach Lady MaVynee Betsch received the “Gullah/Geechee Anointed Spirit Award” posthumously due to the fact that these awards starting being issued after she made her transition into the realm of sacred ancestors in 2005.
She always let everyone know, “When I die, I’m coming back as a butterfly!” The day that Nana the sand dune that she fought for tirelessly to insure that she would not be destroyed by destructionment and that she would stand as a sacred space of land that had healed her great great grandfather, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, Founder of American Beach and the Afro-American Life Insurance Company which was the first insurance company in Florida, became a national historic site, the butterflies flew around in abundance. The butterflies had communed with The Beach Lady and Nana had also healed and nurtured her. Due to her close relationship with the sea and sands of American Beach, she used the approximately $1 million that she amassed as an opera diva in Europe to be an activist for environmental and cultural causes. She was an inaugural and active member of the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition.
The Beach Lady insured that the world would know about her families rich legacy in Florida and the accomplishments of her great great grandfather and his partners that were visionaries that founded a Black beach resort not only during segregation, but had it flourishing during the Great Depression. When MaVynee Betsch entered the world on January 13, 1935, she no doubt entered the world dancing and singing. As she spent time with her great great grandfather in the sands of Nana which would come to be the center of the beach resort founded in there that same year of MaVynee’s birth, she got the words that she would continue to sing and teach concerning the pride that we should take as people of African descent and the contributions that we had made to the world. She also could dramatize the pain and anguish that our ancestors suffered as their bodies were thrown overboard during the Middle Passage to drown leaving the bodies to show up along the shorelines of Amelia Island where American Beach sits.
The Beach Lady MaVynee Betsch shared history and environmental facts with everyone that showed up at American Beach and saw her RV or met her as she laid out on the briar filled grass and sand in her lawn chair. She wanted this history to continue to be told long after she had gained her wings and would no longer be able to tell it like she could walking with her 6 foot long lock that she had grown to get selected for the Guinness World Book of Records cradled in her arm. She cradled her hair the same way she cradled every person that arrived at American Beach seeking to know more about what had taken place in this space that was a crucial part of Black history since it represented the story of the successful partnerships of Black people as well as the support that we had given one another. To insure that the story would continue to be told through the numerous articles, photographs, and historical pieces that she had collected regarding American Beach, she started to lobby everyone she knew to help get the American Beach Museum built. The beginning was founding the “Abraham L. Lewis Historical Society” and after that came the effort to get the land and to raise the money for the building.
The day that the American Beach Museum opened, it rained as if a libation was being poured by The Beach Lady herself to insure that the right spiritual energy would usher everyone in that evening. As the evening began, the rain stopped and the cars poured in. As I emerged from my vehicle, I was greeted by an orange butterfly. In my spirit, I said, “Good evening, Beach Lady. This is your day!” When I walked the corridor of this new space that further tells ourstory of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, I could feel The Beach Lady walking me through each section and I could hear her voice in my head from all the years that she told me the story of American Beach and would show me what new historical materials she had each time we got together. Suddenly, her voice got louder and I had to look around. There was a kiosk now playing an interview with her on screen. I heard this as I approached her 6 foot long lock with the light shining on it and I could just about see her hands holding it up as she would when folks wanted a picture that would show its length. I turned around and said to Representative Glenda Simmons-Jenkins, “She’s here.” We nodded and a tear fell from my eyes. I turned the corner and saw her chair. I said, “There you are!” I nodded and paused to feel her energy that flowed in this space and then kept moving on as best I could. I did not want to leave the space because she and I never left one another this quickly. We had danced together and sang together and it seemed that this is what we should be doing again. Yet, I could feel her saying, “Come back, baby.” My spirit answered, “I will when we can just commune again.”
I left the building and looked up and said out loud, “Job well done, Beach Lady! Job well done!”
When I arrived at my home in South Carolina and went to tell my family how The Beach Lady is finally just resting in her chair down at American Beach and that she doesn’t have to fight for any causes any more, she can finally rest, I was greeted by an orange butterfly that did a swirl around me and then landed right before me! All I could do was smile and recall the blessings I had on this life journey by having one of the Wisdom Circle Council of Elders of the Gullah/Geechee Nation that truly traveled and worked with me side-by-side still doing this from the realm of the sacred ancestors. Keep dancing Beach Lady! Keep dancing! Every January 13 we dance and sing for you while you fly! Gwine on MaVynee Betsch! Gwine on!