60 years after she made history by leading a charge to desegregate Broward County beaches, Eula Johnson continues to inspire generations.
“It’s just amazing,” said Janay Joseph, a student at Nova Southeastern University. “To see how it works, it’s kind of stood the test of time.”
According to a Florida Heritage Site designation at Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park in Dania Beach, the site was once known as “Colorful Beach”.
In 1954, after years of petitioning, Broward County finally had a barrier island site designated for segregation, but it was not accessible because a road was never built. In response, Johnson – alongside Dr. Von D. Mizell and others – led a series of protest demonstrations at all-white public beaches.
“I saw a picture of Eula Johnson,” Joseph said. “I just saw the expression of determination and courage on his face, and I wanted to know a little more about his story.”
Joseph took the time to learn more about the peaceful yet powerful protester while working as an intern on Fort Lauderdale’s Civil Rights History Program.
The wade-ins led to a court battle, which ultimately led to an ordinance in favor of the protesters and further led to a broader civil rights movement that brought integration into local schools.
“It’s great to know there’s a local civil rights activist like Eula Johnson,” Joseph said. “She is known as the Rosa Parks of the South, because of her work she not only ran the wading pools, but she was also the first female president of the NAACP.”
Johnson lived in the historically Black Sistrunk neighborhood, not too far from where Joseph grew up. Because of this, she said she wanted to make sure more people in her community understood Johnson’s impact.
That’s when Joseph grabbed his camera and went on a mission to share Eula Johnson’s activism journey on film.
“Before the cameras even start rolling, you’re going through the archives,” Joseph said. “You go through newspaper articles online, you gather all the research and sources.”
Now, after a year-long process, the 22-year-old film student has completed her assignment and is ready to show the film.
“It’s a documentary short,” Joseph said. “And that’s without the typical narrator.”
Instead, Joseph says audiences will hear the late Eula Johnson, in her own words through archived interviews.
“She would always fight for other members of her community and for their rights, and would not accept any special privileges for herself,” Joseph said. “It’s that selflessness that I think should be another message that people take away from the film. I want people to come away with the message of feeling empowered. That they have the chances and the opportunities to do something for the benefit of their community.”
Joseph received an independent artist grant from Broward’s Cultural Division, which funds a film screening.
It will air March 30 at the Fort Lauderdale African American Research Library and Cultural Center, doors open at 5:30 p.m.