It’s official. Beach 2 in Lewes is now Johnnie Walker Beach.
Lewes Mayor and City Council voted unanimously Oct. 11, to approve the renaming of the beach that was once a popular destination for the African American community during the Jim Crow era.
Walker was a prominent African American businessman who operated a restaurant/entertainment venue at the site of Beach 2 many years ago. He also offered a lot of support for the African American community throughout Sussex County.
Walker’s restaurant was the hub for entertainment, said Janet Maull-Martin at a Sept. 11 Greater Lewes Foundation meeting.
“I loved it,” she said. “That’s where I learned. That is where I grew. That is part of my history. It is a part that has been cleared out. There is nothing there that shows what it was like when I grew up.”
Also gone is a pavilion that was a gathering place for families and friends.
Mayor Ted Becker said he’s already working with the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to rebuild the pavilion.
“That pavilion was the life of the African American community,” Maull-Martin said. “It was a center of community, a center of gathering, sharing, talking.”
Lewes Mayor and City Council also approved Savannah Beach as a new name for Beach 1. Becker said it makes sense as the beach is at the end of Savannah Road.
The renaming process started this summer, when new Beach Commissioner Kay Carnahan brought the idea to the parks and recreation commission. Knowing some of Beach 2’s history, she suggested the city’s African American heritage commission have a chance to weigh in. In July, the commission quickly determined Johnnie Walker was the only option.
“I’m thrilled with the emotional response to it,” said Carnahan at the Oct. 11 meeting. “I thought I was just asking for a name, and I was very amazed at what this has meant to this community. It’s exciting to be able to see the photos and hear the testimony.”
Their recommendation gained the support of the parks and recreation commission, which was forwarded to mayor and city council for consideration Oct. 11.
The African American heritage commission is already working to gather photographs and stories to include on an informational kiosk to be built at the beach. A historic marker is also planned. Carnahan said she hopes everything can be set up by this spring.