Broward County is now home to the Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park, the first in Florida named for African Americans. Both of them were civil rights activists who made history there.
John U. Lloyd State Park, a popular recreational site in Dania Beach nestled between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, was officially renamed July 1 by the State Legislature to honor Fort Lauderdale residents Dr. Mizell, a physician, and Johnson, a business owner. They each served as head of the local NAACP as the country moved through racially turbulent times. They led the struggle for equal rights for Blacks in the 1940’s and ‘50’s during segregation, pressing the county for access to a stretch of beach for Black residents. The park is the site of what was once that “colored beach,” a community gathering place. They later organized wade-ins to integrate Fort Lauderdale’s all-white beach in the early 1960s sparking a larger movement that culminated in desegregation of schools and all public accommodations.
In the park today a memorial commemorates the historic significance of the beach and the activism and resistance that grew from it. The Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County area today is diverse and international but continues to value its past.
Hundreds gathered Aug 6 for a “Reclaiming and Renaming” celebration, in partnership with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, where families enjoyed the park, representatives of the families of Dr. Mizell and Johnson and original Blacks students who tried to integrate Fort Lauderdale beach were saluted, and some participants joined in a symbolic wade-in-the-water ceremony.
The Mizell-Johnson State Park site will continue to attract visitors to the 310 acres of recreational facilities, the natural seaside oasis of sea oats and other plants on the dunes, mangrove forests, fishing, and wildlife viewing, as well as a 2.5 mile beach for swimming and sunning.
As part of the historical recognition the park boat ramp and pavilions have been named for other African American community activists who pushed for boating facilities for Blacks, filed law suits to integrate public schools and accommodations, integrated the medical staffs at white hospitals and established county health services in the Black communities and created the expansion of business opportunities for Blacks beyond the Black community.
According to State Sen. Chris Smith who co-sponsored the bill for the designation with State House Rep. Evan Jenne, when it comes to turning the page historically, “It’s never too late to do the right thing.”
For more local history checkout scenes from daily community life and local history during the “colored beach” era in the Dixie Court Housing Project display at the Old Dillard Museum.
For memories of the Black beach and civil rights demonstrations in the 50’s and ‘60s, see “Crossings of the Racial Divide” produced by Kitty Oliver.