Jekyll Island History by Tyler E. Bagwell
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Segregation on Jekyll Island, Georgia
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Triumphs and Challenges:
The Segregation Years of Jekyll Island

By Tyler E. Bagwell

This narrative recounts some of the events that took place on Jekyll during state ownership in the segregation years and briefly chronicles some of the stories concerning those who helped dismantle the wall of human isolation on the island.

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Entrance to Jekyll Island Causeway
In the late 1940s Jekyll Island, like the entire state of Georgia, operated under the rules of segregation. Although integration and opportunity for all Americans beckoned around the corner, Jekyll during this period was a resort that catered only to those of European-descent. Ironically, while Georgia laws prohibited different ethnic groups from vacationing in the same facilities, many of the employees working on the island in 1947, 1948, and 1949 were black.

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An early 1960s postcard of the Dolphin Club and Motor Hotel is viewed above. During segregation black business leaders from around the southeast constructed this motel on the south end of Jekyll Island.
In 1950 black community leaders from Brunswick requested a section of land on the island for use by people of color. The Jekyll Island State Park Authority agreed to the idea, and invited a local committee to inspect the southern part of the island where a black-only area would soon be established. Savannah officials of African-descent inquired about the status of the development in 1952.

Eventually, in 1955 a beach pavilion was constructed on the south end of Jekyll. The structure, called the Negro Beach House, was one of only a few places in the South where a black person could spend leisure time near the beach. The Negro Beach House included dressing rooms, a concession stand, and a covered picnic area. Today, the building is part of the 4-H Center's Environmental Education facilities on Jekyll Island.

Land adjacent the Negro Beach House was soon cleared for a motel and forty house lots staked and available for lease. In documents and brochures of the 1950s the black-only area of Jekyll was called St. Andrews Beach. The Authority announced that a golf course and a shopping center would soon be built near the motel and by March of 1956, a group of black businessmen and community leaders from around the state officially leased the motel site. The entrepreneurs, forming the St. Andrews Beach Corporation, raised capital and began erecting a motel and a restaurant. Construction began in October of 1958 and by August of 1959 the Dolphin Club and Motor Hotel was in operation. However, due to disagreements between stockholders, the St. Andrews Beach Corporation dissolved in late 1959 and the Jekyll Island State Park Authority purchased the motel.

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Annabelle Robinson and Dave Jackson (courtesy of Judge Isaac and Vernice Jenrette)
Dave Jackson, a prosperous cattle and grain farmer of African-descent from Adel, Georgia, leased the Dolphin Club and Motor Hotel in December of 1960. Mr. Jackson, founder of The Farmers Merchant Bank in Adel and a trustee board member of the Citizens Bank of Atlanta, supplied grain to businesses such as the Purina Company. The operation of the 58-unit motel became a family affair. Dave Jackson's sisters Annabell Robinson and Betty Chandler managed the inn, while his nephew James Chandler supervised the Dolphin Club lounge and restaurant. In the early 1960s a room at the Dolphin Motor Hotel cost $8.50 a night. Numerous school groups from around Georgia flocked to the facilities by the busload and many of the teachers and children viewed the Atlantic coast for the first time in their lives.

The Dolphin Club lounge and restaurant, located in front of the Dolphin Motor Hotel, included a lobby with restrooms, a kitchen, a dining room, a business office, and a lounge. The Dolphin Club lounge comprised of a dance floor with a horseshoe-shaped bar and a small stage in one corner of the room. Although blues legend B.B. King performed at the Dolphin Club in 1961, in the early years entertainment came mainly from local dance bands and jazz ensembles. By 1964, concert promoter Charlie Cross booked popular R&B entertainers at the Dolphin Club including Clarence Carter, Tyrone Davis, Millie Jackson, Li'l Willie Johnson, and Percy Sledge.

Local civil rights activist in the early 1960s struggled to make the island publicly accessible to all citizens of Georgia. Dr. J. Clinton Wilkes, an eventual island resident, challenged in 1960 the notion of separate but equal facilities. Dr. Wilkes, by having the Black Dental Association of Georgia meet on the island, forced the Authority to quickly build a black auditorium to accommodate the conference. This building, dubbed the St. Andrews Auditorium, was often used in the early sixties for family reunions and dance events. Although an Otis Redding concert took place at the structure in 1964, by the mid-1960s the building was rarely utilized. St. Andrews Auditorium is currently part of the Jekyll Island 4-H Center.

Because of segregation, several conventions initially scheduled to meet on the island were canceled. In 1960 the AmVets called off a planned conference and in 1961 the International Association of Milk and Food Sanitarians moved their conference from Jekyll to another location. Both groups cited the cancellations were due to members of different ethnic backgrounds unable to meet together. In March of 1963 Rev. Julius C. Hope, then president of the NAACP Brunswick branch, and W.W. Law, president of the NAACP Savannah branch, visited the island with others and attempted to use segregated amenities. They were denied access to the golf course, the indoor swimming pool, Peppermint Land Amusement Park, and the motels. The indoor pool, razed by 1995, was located at the main convention center, and Peppermint Land, operating from 1956 to 1965, was situated in an area on the island south of Blackbeard's Restaurant. A lawsuit was filed and by June of 1964 it was ruled that all state-operated facilities on Jekyll must be integrated. According to Rev. Julius Hope, then island director "Judge" Hartley was key to the easy and peaceful integration of the island.

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Jekyll Golf Course
Paving of the streets in the St. Andrews subdivision began in June of 1960 and the first home was erected there in 1963 by Genoa and Mamie Martin. Genoa Martin, director of Selden Recreational Park, was instrumental in bringing jazz greats such as Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway and entertainers such as James Brown and The Drifters to Brunswick. Joseph Henry and Lillian Armstrong built the second home in 1964. Mr. Armstrong worked for the Jekyll Island Club in 1928 as the Indian Mound Cottage caretaker and Ms. Armstrong often visited relatives on the island employed by the club. A fondness for Jekyll developed in these early encounters and prompted them to move to the island in later years. Joseph Henry Armstrong retired in 1973 from the United States Postal Service. In 1965 Dr. J. Clinton and Josephine Wilkes built the third house. The other homes in the St. Andrews residential area would not be constructed until after 1971.

With the desegregation of island amenities in 1964, Earl Hill, a caddy in the 1920s for the Jekyll Island Club, started a golf tournament on the island. The Frontier Club, a social organization formed by Hill, found financial sponsors, created a souvenir program, and managed the event. Called the Southeastern Golf Tournament, though sometimes nicknamed "The Classic" by Earl Hill, the competition attracted numerous golf professionals to Jekyll including Lee Elder, Jim Dent, Nate Starks, and Jim Thorpe. Jimmy Devoe, proprietor of the first golf school owned by a black American, was also a regular tournament participant.

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Aerial of Jekyll Island showing the Aquarama
In early autumn of 1964 the Frontier Club hosted an Otis Redding concert at the St. Andrews Auditorium to help raise money for the first golf tournament. That same year at the tournament's award ceremony "The Iceman" Jerry Butler performed. This event officially desegregated the island's convention center. Other golf tournament award ceremonies would boast entertainers such as Wilson Pickett, Joe Simon, and Percy Sledge. In 1975, at the eleventh annual Southeastern Golf Tournament, 71 golf professionals vied for the first place prize of $2,500. PGA golfer Nate Starks won the purse that year. Earl Hill, dying in 1985, hosted the final Southeastern Golf Tournament in the early 1980s.

Due to lack of business, the Dolphin Club and Motor Hotel closed in June of 1966 and the motel was turned into a group camp and youth center. In June of 1983 the 4-H organization took over operation of the facilities and began offering a summer camp teaching environmental courses to youth groups and schools. The camp, called the Environmental Education Program, became a year-round enterprise on Jekyll Island in 1987.


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