Rosamond Johnson Beach Anniversary Growing as a Major Heritage Tourism Celebration

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By: Tony McCray

Johnson Beach near Perdido Key has a special place in the minds and hearts of Black Pensacolians as the beautiful white sand beach where families spent their summer weekends. However, many Pensacolians of all persuasions are not aware of how the beach got its name from Army Private Rosamond Johnson, Jr., the first Escambia County resident to die in the Korean War on July 26, 1950.

His mother, Mrs. Alice Johnson, and his brothers, Raymond Reese, Marcelleus Reese, Lemuel Reese, Reginald Reese and Ronald Reese, were sitting in the front of the pavilion just to the right of where the podium was centered.  The Master of Ceremonies, Eugene Franklin, the President and Chief Operating Officer for the Florida Black  Chamber of Commerce, stepped up to the podium to begin the ceremony. Franklin has grown to become one of the premier heritage preservation advocates in the State of Florida where he sits on the National Black Chamber Board of Directors.

On July 26, 1950, Private Rosamond Johnson had successfully carried two wounded soldiers to safety and was returning for a third soldier when he was fatally wounded. Rosamond joined the Army at 15 years old to help take care of his mother, who is still alive today at the age of 99 years old. He was 17 years young when he died.  The Purple Heart was awarded to him on August 21, 1950.

Johnson Beach and all of Pensacola Beaches was racially segregated when Rosamond was killed. It was after the Korean War when the Sunset Riding Club advocated that the Escambia County recreation area be named after the Pensacola war hero. The area became part of the National Seashore in 1973 and a permanent marker was erected in his honor on June 10, 1996.

Superintendent Dan Brown of the Gulf Islands National Seashore welcomed those in attendance. He spoke of the annual ceremony and the monument with the pride of a father with the responsibility to support the ongoing celebrations each year.

In 1996, the National Park Service began reviewing how it documents the bravery of African Americans in their park units. That process of review continues in 2016, the National Park Service’s 100th Year Celebration. The goal is: To connect with and create the Next Generation of Park Visitors, Supporters, and Advocates.    

This initiative by the National Park Service, the Florida Black Chamber, and the Perdido Key Area Chamber, and the Johnson Family is a great example of Heritage Tourism at work. Alison Davenport of the Perdido Chamber gave a heartwarming salute to Rosamond, and his mother Mrs. Johnson on how it must have felt when she found out her son had been killed in the war. She was followed by the ever insightful, Sue Straughn, Pensacola’s own WEAR TV News Anchor, who spoke of her memories of coming to Johnson Beach as a child with her family during the years of segregation. Her riveting presentation was the signature place on the program agenda that spoke to the importance of Black History Preservation.

After Straughn’s presentation, Mrs. Johnson herself came up to the microphone and said thank you to the public for coming to celebrate her son’s memory. Following the official program the crowd moved to a new monument and the Johnson Family began to serve a hearty meal of fish, hamburgers, hot dogs, baked beans, French fries, and cold slaw.   Preparations have already begun for next year’s celebration on May 6, 2017.

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