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McKenzie Beach: Pawleys Island’s Historical Black Resort

By Marissa Polascak • August 28, 2017

It is quite known that Pawleys Island is an area that is full of history as it is home to once-working plantations, old inns, ghost lore, and more. But did you know that Pawleys Island was once home to the first African American resort built along the Grand Strand?

During the 1930s, while segregation was still prevalent throughout the United States, a man named Frank McKenzie and a woman named Lillan Pyatt acquired land and came up with a plan to build a place where African-Americans could go to visit the beach and enjoy themselves without fear of discrimination.

That place was named the Magnolia Beach Club, and the 23-acre stretch of land it was on, known as McKenzie Beach, became a popular destination for vacationers as well as black musicians who were out on the road. In fact, this 15-cabin property often hosted performances by famous black entertainers such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Little Richard, and many other talents.

The important thing about McKenzie Beach was the fact that it provided a safe place for African-Americans to go with their families to sit by the ocean, enjoy delicious food, and have a relaxing vacation amongst friends. The resort operated for nearly two decades until Hurricane Hazel unfortunately destroyed it on October 15, 1954. 

While efforts were made to revive the resort, it was not a success, as McKenzie eventually had to sell the property, which now sits along Highway 17 in ruins. But let those ruins be a reminder of the good deed of Frank McKenzie & Lillan Pyatt, as well as the amazing memories that were created on McKenzie Beach.