Planning a trip? We can help!
Woohoo, vacation! That's our specialty. Tell us a little about the trip you're planning so we can help you with some ideas.
Dreaming of a Vacation
I'm at the beach now!
Who's Traveling?
When are you visiting?

African American Entrepreneurs of the Grand Strand During Segregation

  By  Kathryn Hedgepath

Black History paved a new way in the Grand Strand

Vacationers have been welcomed to the Grand Strand for well over a century.  However, during segregation, African American travelers had few if any options to enjoy the beaches, accommodations, and entertainment this area had.  But in the 1930s, a series of ventures by various African American entrepreneurs opened up opportunities to visitors that gave tourists of color vacation destinations that boasted gorgeous beaches, delicious food and live performances by the biggest names in 20th Century music. 


If you are driving south of Myrtle Beach and you’ve passed Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet on your right but haven’t made it to the historic Hammock Shops in Pawleys Island on your left, you may notice the ruins of a mid-century modern motel.  There is no sign or marker indicating what it is, but if you ask around, someone may tell you that that was McKenzie Beach.  While technically not on the beach, the property had been part of the Magnolia Beach Club that was situated where the south end of Litchfield Beach is now. 

In 1934, Lillian Golden Pyatt,  a single Black woman, despite the Great Depression and the myriad of hurdles in the business world that hindered both women and African Americans, got the idea to create a resort where African Americans could go, The Magnolia Beach Club.  The number of oceanfront resorts between New York and Miami that catered to a Black clientele were virtually nonexistent. That void was what drove Lillian to make her beach club a reality regardless of how insurmountable the prospect seemed.  

Her journey began when she inherited a tract of oceanfront property from a family member,  James Smalls.  However, she almost lost it before she could claim it because it was about to be auctioned off by the county due to unpaid property taxes.  Using her savings to cover the debt, she became the new owner and immediately realized the land’s potential.  And she realized its significant shortcoming.  There was no direct access from the newly paved Highway 17 to what would be her resort.

She didn’t know who owned the property in between, but soon found out that it too had been recently inherited by an African American woman and her sisters.  That heir, Elizabeth “Miss Liz” McKenzie and her husband, Frank, bought out her other siblings and became business partners of Lillian Pyatt, along with Dr. Ulysses Teel who invested additional capital.  The McKenzies agreed to live on the property and run the resort while Lillian returned to New York to earn money up there to funnel into their joint partnership down here.

Construction, bankrolled by Lillian, began in 1936.  In the next few years her dream took shape.  They built a causeway from the McKenzie property over to the Pyatt land which was sometimes known as Birney Beach.  Once they had access, they created the club which consisted of a 24-unit hotel, a white brick dining room trimmed in pink, a pavilion, and fifteen cabins that were used mostly for transient accommodations, but some guests stayed in theirs for the entire summer.  That pavilion would host the biggest musical stars like Ray Charles and Lena Horne, whom Lillian would sometimes book while in New York or arrange while they were performing along the Grand Strand.

Tragically, all of this came to a dramatic end on October 15th, 1954, when Hurricane Hazel came in as a Category 4 storm on a high tide under a full moon.  The bridge to the club was completely washed away as were all 15 of the guest cabins.  What structures were left were decimated.  The damage was so severe that the federal government wouldn’t allow the bridge to be rebuilt for fear of the same thing happening in a subsequent storm.  Without a bridge and the exorbitant costs to repair what they did have left; it wasn’t feasible to rebuild.  Lillian and the McKenzies dissolved their partnership and The Magnolia Beach Club was no more. 


In the following years, friends helped the McKenzies rebuild a new, family-friendly resort on the four-acre mainland tract which they called McKenzie Beach.  They no longer had access to the shore but enjoyed a beautiful view of the marsh that separated their property from it.  That’s when the twelve-unit motel that is still seen today came to be.  The resort also had a restaurant and tavern along with a bait and tackle shop and several privately owned new homes. 

Unfortunately, the financial success of what they once had could not be replicated and, in 1963, the McKenzies were faced with bankruptcy.  Just because they were not going to be able to keep McKenzie Beach open didn’t mean that it wasn’t needed as segregation was still prevalent.  So two civil rights advocates, Walter M. Manigault and Modjeska M. Simkins, purchased the resort and retained the McKenzies to run it until its initial purpose was no longer needed. 

The Manigaults had kept a summer residence there throughout the 1950s and had a wealth of happy memories of the place.  Now the subsequent generations of that family remain the caretakers of that property.


What is today The Booker T. Washington Neighborhood in Myrtle Beach was once known as The Hill.  Homes and businesses lined the streets of this thriving African American district.  Carver Street in particular was the hub of commercial enterprises there including some night clubs that welcomed the most notable of musical performers of the mid-twentieth century:  Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Marvin Gaye.  Of these clubs, the classiest was said to have been Charlie’s Place. 

Charlie and Sarah Fitzgerald came to Myrtle Beach in 1935, and opened their club, Charlie’s Place, in 1937.  In later years, they added motel units for Black travelers and Black musicians who played at their venue or elsewhere who were limited as to where they could stay because of segregation.  Other business ventures included a taxi service and a gas station. 

Charlie was one of the most successful of all of the businessmen in Myrtle Beach during his time.  It said that he dressed like a movie star, and that he was so well-respected that he was able to circumvent some of the restrictions that segregation imposed.  When he went to the first cinema in town, Ben’s Broadway Theater, he didn’t sit up in the balcony, he sat downstairs and no one said anything about it.  At lunch, he would often go to the Kozy Korner Diner where many of the White businessmen would gather.  He was welcomed there as most of his fellow diners were also guests at his club.  Because at Charlie’s Place, everyone was welcomed and everyone had a good time. 


Another African American entrepreneurial couple, George and Roxy Tyson from Wilmington, North Carolina, were the founders of what would become Atlantic Beach, nicknamed “The Black Pearl.”  By 1934, George, a WWI naval reservist, had already established a successful dry cleaners and laundromat in Conway, South Carolina, that catered to the African American community there.  Roxy was a seamstress who had family money that they used to make their initial investment in what was to become the oceanside resort. 

It was in that year that George purchased 47 acres for $2000 from one of his few White business connections, R.V. Ward.  The land was part of a larger tract that was in what is today Crescent Beach in North Myrtle Beach. 

Once he owned the land, George built the Black Hawk Nightclub that was popular with his African American patrons.  Over the subsequent years, he sold plots of the land to other Black investors and, in 1941, he purchased an additional 49 acres for $600 from Viola Bell.  Her family had sizable land holdings in the area. 

The Atlantic Beach Company (ABC) was formed by a group of African American physicians and professionals in 1943, who then bought the land that Tyson had accumulated and continued the quest of developing the oceanfront community.  ABC sold land until 1957, to hospitality industry developers and year-round or seasonal residents.  They perpetuated the Tysons’ pursuit of creating an African American destination that offered a beach along with seaside amenities and entertainment that were off limits elsewhere.  In 1966, the community was incorporated and became the Town of Atlantic Beach.



Kathryn Hedgepath

Myrtle Beach native, Kathryn Hedgepath, loves to share her hometown’s history with visitors and newcomers to the Grand Strand.  She is the creator and narrator of the Myrtle Beach History Trolley and Step-On Tours, and the author of the book, Myrtle Beach Movies, that tells the stories behind the motion pictures that were made or premiered in Myrtle Beach.  She has traveled in 40 countries on 6 continents and uses her experience to convey our local history through a world lens. Kathryn returned home from NYC in 2002 to marry her beloved husband, Jenks, after a career in television and publishing (and even worked in Space Shuttle Operations at NASA Headquarters in DC for a semester before starting grad school at Georgetown University).  Her first career job was as Personal Assistant to television icon and wildlife expert, Jim Fowler, of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom fame. Her dad, Myrtle Beach’s first veterinarian, arranged the job interview when Jim Fowler came to Myrtle Beach for a speaking appearance at a veterinary conference in 1991.