Bethune Park to receive historic recognition

BY ANDREAS BUTLER
DAYTONA TIMES

The Volusia County Council will place two historical markers at Mary McLeod Bethune Park in New Smyrna Beach during a ceremony scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday, May 19. The park is located 6655 South Atlantic Ave.

The Mary McLeod Bethune Park in New Smyrna Beach features a board walk and fishing pier.
(PHOTOS BY DUANE C. FERNANDEZ SR./HARDNOTTSPHOTOGRAPHY.COM)

The County Council will unveil two historical panels that tell the story of Bethune Beach, a former Black-owned resort that opened in the 1940s, providing beach access to Blacks when most of Florida’s beaches were closed to them.

The historical panels are part of a countywide network of historical interpretive displays.

The park is a beachfront park adjacent to what is known as Bethune Beach.

The beach was once a popular summer spot for Blacks.

On six acres
Both are named after Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman University.

Known simply as Bethune Park, it is located on six acres between the Indian River and Atlantic Ocean.

Representatives from the Volusia County Council, Bethune-Cookman University and the Bethune Beach Property Owners Association are schedule to attend the ceremony.

Memories of beach
New Smyrna Beach residents have fond memories of the beach and park.

“The park wasn’t there. It was just the beach when I was growing up, Robin Jones recalled. “They had the platform where they had dances. There were bars in the area. As a child, I remember going there every summer and every weekend.

“Coach Babe James took us from the summer program by busloads every day during the summer.

There was no age limit. Whoever came got to go. We looked forward to going to the beach as kids.

Back then, African-Americans went to the beach starting on Easter Sunday up until Labor Day.

That was the season.”

Jones admits that she doesn’t go to the beach or park nowadays.

“I don’t go over there now. It’s not the same beach. People should go. I don’t go. It’s not like it used to be. The sand isn’t as white.”

Brief history
Like many older residents, Jones believes the recognition is well deserved.

“It’s great. It is a historic place. Back in the day people came from everywhere to go there. There were clubs and that platform. It was the only place back then where we can go and have a good time. It stayed crowded,” explained Jones.

Bethune Beach opened as Bethune-Volusia Beach, Corp in the mid 1940s.

Dr. Bethune and wealthy Black investors purchased 2.5 miles of beach property south of New Smyrna Beach and created a resort community and recreation area.

Popular before desegregation
On Dec. 9, 1945, Dr. Bethune and others founded the Bethune-Volusia Beach Corporation.

The founding members were G.D. Rogers, president; George W. Powell, executive vice president; Dr. W.H. Gray, president; James Colston, secretary: and Dr. Bethune, treasurer.

During segregation, Blacks weren’t allowed on the same beaches with Whites.

The popularity of the beach grew rapidly on July 4,1950. Festivities reportedly attracted 5,000 visitors.

The beach was a bastion for Black people up until integration in the 1970s made all beaches in the surrounding area accessible.

Park’s features
Bethune Park features a boardwalk on the ocean side and fishing pier on the river side.
Manatees are often spotted there as well as several bird species.

The park also has a basketball court, canoe launch/boat ramp, community building, pavilion, picnic areas, playground, restrooms, swimming, tennis courts and volleyball.

The park and beach are still important to the community.

“It’s important to Blacks. It’s everyone’s beach now. It’s important to everyone who lives there now and visit. It’s now everybody’s beach,’’ Jones added.

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