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Park Ranger Andrew Hill Commemorated At Beasley Park

When Beasley Park in Fort Walton Beach opened 55 years ago, it was designated as the only beach for blacks in Okaloosa County. Andrew Hill, who was appointed as overseer of the once-segregated park, is now being honored with a commemorative plaque that adorns its entrance.

It all began in 1959, when the Florida Park’s Board approved $14,400 expenditure for construction of Beasley Park.

At a recent ceremony to unveil the plaque, Okaloosa County Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel provided a historical review, “On March 19th 1960, the John C. Beasley Park was dedicated and also in 1960 Andrew Hill was appointed its park ranger. In 1964-65,’ the park it was desegregated and Ranger Hill retired from the Florida park service. March 27th 76’ the park was transferred from the state of Florida to Okaloosa County.”

More of the park’s history, time line, and historic photographs including one of Ranger Hill are detailed on the plaque.

Steps to honor Hill have been long in-the-making, but Okaloosa County Commission Chairman Nathan Boyles says this is not an apology or reparation of any sort, This is a commemoration and this is a memorialization of history. And that’s a very important thing to do because if we fail to acknowledge a past injustice that may well be a greater injustice than the original sin itself.”

Through all of the ugliness of segregation this park was a haven for the black community,” said Daisy Wiggins, Andrew Hill’s daughter,Other than school or church there wasn’t a lot of places that we could congregate and come together. And we would have the best times. The Fourth of July and Labor Day, the place would be over running.”

Wiggins says her father was a popular fixture at the park because of his interaction with the visitors there, “My daddy, I don’t know what he was thinking but he was kind of like an entertainer. And, he would do things and sing and try and dance.”

During the dedication of the plaque, Wiggins shared a favorite poem of her father’s he used to recite, titled “A Negro Love Song” by Paul Laurence Dunbar.

“Hyeahd de win’ blow thoo de pine, Jump back, honey, jump back,

Mockin’-bird was singin’ fine, Jump back, honey, jump back.

An’ my hea’t was beatin’ so, When I reached my lady’s do’,

Dat I couldn’t ba’ to go--Jump back, honey, jump back.

Put my ahm aroun’ huh wais’, Jump back, honey, jump back.

Raised huh lips an’ took a tase, Jump back, honey, jump back.”

Wiggins is part of a committee of local citizens and county officials that were instrumental in establishing the John C. Beasley Park Commemoration, which honors her father Andrew Hill. The recent ceremony was part of Okaloosa County’s 100th Anniversary celebration.