John Hope Franklin wrote about the "Negro" in society, and he said that in some parts of the nation, there were black folks who were a part of "society." Either their skin color (more often than not) or their educational levels gave them entree into the hoity toity world of vacations, balls, college frats and sororities, and houses of their own.
My parents were teachers in a small, Southern town. They had been taking vacations since the 1940s. Of course, they always stayed with friends and family, but Fernandina Beach aka American Beach was my first vacation with them. When I see them sitting there so young and happy, I have to pinch myself. They never showed displays of affection in front of folks.
My Mother was a lady and my dad liked to think of himself as a hoodlum, but he really wasn't. They worked together for almost 60 years, and when death separated them, the pain in my father's face was so intense, I had to look away. My favorite memory of this couple involves my father looking at my mother as I looked at him. I watched his features soften and the color in his hazel warm as he looked at my mother's face. They were a team, and now I'm glad they're back together.
The Afro-American Motel was the crown jewel of American Beach--the part of Fernandina Beach that we could visit. My first trip there was as a six month old. Across the street from the motel was a house made like a ship--it had portholes and everything. When I returned at five, I used to watch that house for hours. It was one of the first houses I had seen that had a garage, so every time the car disappeared into the house, I was amazed.
My grandmother was born in Fernandina Beach, and I've traced her ancestors back two generations. She had a cousin named Harry Treye who only had arm, but Mr. Treye could do anything a person with two arms could do. We used to go to the Treyes whenever we visited Fernandina, and it was such a treat. It was a huge (from my pre-teen years) house with a wonderful front porch and a bathroom that was added later and was situated on the back porch.
Our days in Fernandina were spent on American Beach in the mornings and sight seeing in the afternoons. When I look at the pictures now, none are as touching for me as the one of my parents when they were young and almost carefree. I love their lineless faces--their vibrant skin--their ability to touch each other unabashedly. It is hard to see them so alive when I remember how they were when they left me.
Text by © Annye Refoe
in cooperation with William Schmidt who scanned the photos.