Miami's First Colored Only Beach
The creation of the "Oasis"
View from the original shoreline of Virginia Beach. circa 1940's
During the second world war (1939-1945), a Nazi U boat sank a commercial ship off the coast of Key Biscayne which in turn caused the United States military to be on high alert. The American response was to train soldiers on Miami Beach and in Key Biscayne in case of an attack. The hotels in Miami Beach were converted for the white soldiers and the southern shoreline of Virginia Key was used for black soldiers. Overseas, there were some black regiments that received a taste of integration. But once they had to return to the U.S. they would be forced to separate as well as no beach to recreate on. Many solders returning to Miami, organized a movement to call for a beach where Miami's Communities of Color can enjoy freely.
On May 9th, 1945, a group of seven Black beachgoers went swimming at Baker’s Haulover Beach in Miami. This was unusual because Miami’s beaches were off-limits to Black bathers. This historic swim was known as a “wade-in” and was an act of civil disobedience by those who took part. The goal was to draw attention to the fact that, despite the laws of Jim Crow touting “separate but equal” public facilities, there was no public beach available, at all, for African Americans and Afro-Caribbean's. This public act of law-breaking led to no arrests and little press was given to the event. Some think this is because of the city's wish to maintain its reputation as a vacationer’s paradise.
The wade-in at Baker’s Haulover Beach was closely followed by the opening of Virginia Beach, Miami’s first Black-only beach on August 1st, 1945. Virginia Key Beach was just one municipal park out of 28 in Miami-Dade County at the time and the only park open to Black residents. It was only accessible by ferry or private boat until the opening of the Rickenbacker Causeway in 1947. Over the years the beach became a favorite destination of Black families from Miami and beyond, where they enjoyed amenities such as a carousel, miniature train, concession stand, and dance pavilion. Virginia Beach was one of the few places in Miami where the black community could escape the chains of racism and freely express themselves. Thus the beach became popularly known as "The Oasis".