Celebrating Earth Day with “The Beach Lady” MaVynee Oshun Betsch!
MaVynee Oshun Betsch (1935-2005) was a Black American environmentalist and activist. She is famously know as “The Beach Lady” for her conservation efforts and dedication to America Beach on Florida’s coast.
America Beach is a beach community that was built in the 1930s by MaVynee’s grandfather, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, Florida’s first black millionaire. For decades it served as an ocean-side paradise for Blacks from around the country who had no other beach to attend during the Jim Crow era. The need to protect this historic space from development inspired Betsch to quit her international Opera career, and devote 40 years of her life toward conserving Florida’s coastal environment.
MaVynee was committed to protecting the environment, she became a lifetime member of several conservation groups and donated her entire fortune to environmental causes. She traded her life on the international stage for a simple life living on the beach. MaVynee used her voice to lobby for the environment and advocate for the community. She spent her days speaking with passers-by, educating them on the Black history and environmental importance of American Beach.
In 2005 MaVynee Betsch passed away. She was posthumously honored as an Unsung Hero of Compassion by the Dalai Lama. She is remembered by many as a major contributor to the environmental movement. In 2014, American Beach Museum opened its doors, bringing one of MaVynee’s dreams to life.
The stories of Black and brown people who defend the environment are an integral part of the earth’s past, present, and future. MaVynee’s legacy reminds us to keep fighting to protect our planet, and to continue pushing for diversity and inclusion in outdoor spaces.
Links for Learning:
Her Story: Vanessa Nakate & Greta Thunberg
Earth Day Diversity and Inclusion Resources
Title: Saving American Beach: The Biography of African American Environmentalist MaVynee Betsch by Heidi Tyline King, Illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Publisher: Penguin Kids
Recommended Grades: Preschool-3rd
Beach Lady – Smithsonian
American Betsch – Void Magazine