When beachgoers make their way to Lewes next spring, they will notice a big change.
The two municipal beaches, formerly known as Beach 1 and Beach 2, will now have brand new names after Lewes City Council unanimously approved the proposed renaming on Monday.
The beach that sits at the end of Savannah Road past the Dairy Queen – Beach 1 – will share a name with the street that leads up to it: Savannah Beach.
While the Lewes Parks and Recreation Commission considered other names for this beach, such as DeBraak and Bayview, Mayor Ted Becker said he agreed with the commission that this geographic name seems "intuitive."
Just down the coast, across from East of Maui Surf Shop, is the previously named Beach 2.
The city has now officially renamed this beach Johnnie Walker Beach – a nod to a prominent Black business owner who opened a restaurant there and created a welcoming atmosphere for Black families during segregation.
This comes after earlier recommendations and memories shared from the African American Heritage Commission to the Parks and Recreation Commission.
The African American Heritage Commission clarified the spelling of Johnnie Walker in September, and Parks and Recreation approved the overall recommendation later that month.
"I'm just excited that we've gotten to this point, and I'm thrilled with the emotional response from it," said Kay Carnahan, the Parks and Recreation commissioner who has spearheaded this project.
"I thought I was just asking for a name, and I was very amazed at what this has really meant to this community," she said.
While many people recall that the small port city of Lewes was largely known as a diverse and welcoming area in the 1950s and '60s, Jim Crow laws still segregated significant parts of life – including the resort town's two beaches.
But Johnnie Walker's, a restaurant and open-air pavilion where live music often played, was a place where people ate fish sandwiches and french fries, teenagers danced until their shoes were worn out and families found a sense of belonging, according to people who shared stories from this time.
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"There was a separation, but you didn't even think about it," said the Rev. George Edwards, chair of the African American Heritage Commission, in an earlier interview with the News Journal/Delaware Online. "I was happy here."
It was memories like Edwards' and many more families that the city hopes to honor with this new name.
Beyond the names, which the city and chamber of commerce will update on all maps and brochures before the 2022 beach season starts, more efforts are in the works to recognize the history ingrained in these beaches, especially Johnnie Walker Beach.
For one, Becker said the city is working with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to possibly recreate the Johnnie Walker pavilion on that beach.
"There are very specific restrictions regarding what you can do on the beach side of the dune, and this has to be worked out with DNREC," Becker said during Monday's meeting. "But in our initial conversations, DNREC seems very receptive to the idea of us moving ahead with that concept."
The African American Heritage Commission is also working with the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Lewes Historical Society to visualize this history of the area for residents and visitors.
The city is looking into requesting a state historical marker for Johnnie Walker Beach, Carnahan said in an earlier interview, and she hopes to set up a display at the beach to help tell these stories.
Before the vote on Monday, Carnahan said she hopes the commissions can move forward and set up these informational signs so people can learn about the area when they return to the beaches in the spring.
"This was such a resilient community," she said. "That's what I think we'd like the story to tell."
Emily Lytle covers Sussex County from the inland towns to the beaches. Got a story she should tell? Contact her at email@example.com or 302-332-0370. Follow her on Twitter at @emily3lytle.
Source : https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/local/2021/10/14/two-lewes-beaches-named-savannah-beach-johnnie-walker-beach/8450350002/1296