The History of Atlantic Beach
On October 11, 1934, Mr. George Tyson, an astute African American entrepreneur, purchased 47 acres of beachfront property in Horry County, South Carolina from Mr. R. V. Ward, one of his few white business connections. This tract of land was located between 29 th and 32 nd Avenues South, east of U. S. Highway 17. Mr. Tyson made a $2,000 down payment and entered into an agreement to pay the $10,000 balance using a “land contract”. Under a “land contract”, the seller retains the legal title to the property while permitting the buyer to take possession of the property for most purposes other than legal ownership. Ownership is not passed until the final payment is made. This transaction between Mr. Tyson and Mr. Ward was unregulated, as there was no bank involved, and Mr. Tyson could have lost all of the land by missing just one payment. Confidently, Mr. Tyson moved forward ordering a land survey and mapping to lay out the Atlantic Beach lots. Tyson began selling individual lots to other African Americans to build homes and develop businesses. This began the journey to what is now known as the Town of Atlantic Beach, S.C.

Over the next several years, to the surprise of Mr. Ward and other investors, Mr. Tyson made the annual payments. Mr. Tyson had a clear vision for the Atlantic Beach community. His vision included financial oversight and community development. On July 8, 1941, Mr. Tyson bought an additional 49-acre tract from Viola Bell. This tract, located on the west side of U. S. Highway 17 adjacent to the initial tract, was called Pearl Beach after Mrs. Bell’s daughter, Ila Pearl, who witnessed the transaction as the notary. Now, the African American communities of Atlantic Beach and Pearl Beach consisted of over 90 acres of prime beachfront land in South Carolina.
Understanding the magnitude of these transactions, Mr. Tyson astutely engaged ten other African American stockholders - business persons, educators, physicians and community leaders - to join him, and together they formed the Atlantic Beach Company. Dr. J. W. Seabrook, President of Fayetteville State Teachers College (now Fayetteville State University), Fayetteville, N. C.; Dr. Robert Keith Gordan, first African American physician in Dillon County, S.C.; and Dr. Peter Carlisle Kelly, III, the only African American physician in Georgetown, S. C. signed the original Atlantic Beach Company Charter. This Company was the first governing entity taking legal and financial responsibility for the land contracts, creating the first governance of the Town and ensuring that all subsequent payments were made on time to Mr. Ward and Ms. Bell until the notes were paid in full.

Mr. Tyson’s oceanfront business, the Black Hawk Night Club, became a popular entertainment venue for African Americans and anchored the community. Increasing numbers of visitors and residents made Atlantic Beach a vibrant ocean front community. The storied Atlantic Beach journey includes the booming days of the 1940’s-50’s when African Americans came from all over to enjoy “The Pearl”, including many prominent R&B singers of the time, who performed at the Black Hawk Night Club after completing their gigs at clubs in the neighboring white communities. African American men and women developed a new community - created businesses, built homes, organized governance and invited others to visit them. Atlantic Beach, a fully segregated beach community with physical barriers on its northern and southern borders, grew and flourished becoming one of the most popular vacation destinations for African Americans.

Challenges to these glory days posed new obstacles. In 1954, Hurricane Hazel destroyed the ocean pier, many of the homes and wooden structures along the ocean front, including the Holiday and Gordon Hotels. In the 1960’s, surrounding beaches decided to join under the umbrella of North Myrtle Beach. This was an attempt to incorporate Atlantic Beach into the majority community. Atlantic Beach residents, with much opposition from the neighbors, decided to independently incorporate. On June 15 th , 1966, the original Atlantic Beach and Pearl Beach officially joined and incorporated as the Town of Atlantic Beach, a fully independent municipality in the state of South Carolina. With Emery Gore as the first mayor, this action gave Atlantic Beach its own governance rather than merge with North Myrtle Beach. In the 1970’s, desegregation destroyed the community and individual’s identity with the “Black Pearl”, as it was now called. African Americans left Atlantic Beach for other destinations that they were not allowed to visit earlier. This loss of visitors led to disinvestment in Atlantic Beach. Even with continued challenges of physical barriers between the communities, economic trials and challenges to the independent governing body, Atlantic Beach has been sustained as a historic African American owned and governed community for over 88 years.

Efforts to stimulate tourism have been marginally successful but the history has remained intact and the residents of the Town have remained committed to preserving and communicating the history of Atlantic Beach. Newcomers are joining and investing in the Atlantic Beach community as they seek to connect to and discover this rich historical enclave along the Atlantic Ocean.

In 2022, Atlantic Beach was awarded the Telling the Full History Grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, an Underrepresented Communities Grant from the National Park Service and the Broadening the Narrative Grant from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation to assist in the preservation, advancement and showcasing of the history of this rich African American community. According to National Geographic Magazine, Atlantic Beach “is the only one (African American beach) in the country to have remained in the hands of African Americans since its founding in the 1930s.”