BY: Greg Fink
“The first Saturday of May will be a dedication to Rosamond Johnson and Johnson Beach,” said Gene Valentino, Escambia County Commissioner District 2, as he read a proclamation to the widow of Johnson and family.
Known informally as Johnson Beach for many years, last Saturday was the first day the beach was officially designated as part of the federally protected Gulf Islands National Seashore.
“This has been a long time coming and more then well deserved for the family,” said Elvin McCorvey, Saturday’s keynote speaker.
With nearly 150 people in attendance, McCorvey shared somewhat of a forgotten history of Johnson Beach.
“I have not been out here in 40 years because of ill feelings due to this being a place to come to because of segregated beaches,” McCorvey said.
McCorvey, who serves as the Pensacola Branch NAACP President and as the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority Chairman, spoke on how there was a time in Pensacola when blacks could only attend two beaches.
“I think this younger generation does not know the struggles we went through in this community,” McCorvey continued. “I don’t think people know that … the price that [Johnson] paid for freedom while [blacks] did not have those same freedoms back here in Pensacola.” (A solider in the Korean War, Rosamond was only 17 years old when he enlisted.)
During his speech on Saturday, McCorvey said he is currently in talks with the Escambia County School District to implement a scholarship for our youth to not only honor Johnson, but to learn more about their heritage.
“I truly doubt most know that Rosamond was the first African American soldier to lose his life in the Korean War,” McCorvey said. “That is why I am talking with the school system about a scholarship program for those who want to take part in learning about African American history,” McCorvey said.
Daniel R. Brown, Gulf Islands National Seashore superintendent, agreed.
“Last year when I witnessed this annual event, we were just spectators in the park service,” Brown said. “This year I am very proud to say that we are participants in the official naming of Johnson Beach at the very front entrance of the park.”
Mrs. Johnson and the Johnson family were also awarded a proclamation from the Gulf Coast Veterans Advisory Council.
Key sponsors of the dedication include the National Park Service, Johnson Beach Society, Florida Black Chamber of Commerce, Perdido Key Chamber of Commerce and the Gulf Coast Advisory Council.