BY LADY HEREFORD
Riviera Beach’s majority black population makes it a rarity among South Florida’s waterfront municipalities. But the city’s complexion was quite different in its early days.
White settlers in the area voted to incorporate the city as the Town of Riviera in September 1922. It was re-incorporated in June 1923, and a volunteer fire department began in 1926, according to the book “A History of Riviera Beach, Florida,” edited by former Library Director Lynn Brink.
The 1928 hurricane destroyed Kelsey City, Riviera’s northern neighbor, and caused widespread damage to homes and businesses. During the next two decades, the sleepy town relied mainly on the commercial fishing industry and tourism, earning the nickname “Conch Town.”
During the 1940s, the town expanded, at one point buying 1,000 feet of beach on Singer Island (named for developer Paris Singer) for $40,000. The town, which changed its name to Riviera Beach in 1941, later acquired much of the south end of the island.
The civil rights era brought major changes to the city, which saw its black population more than double between 1950 and 1970. In 1962, attorney F. Malcolm Cunningham became the city’s first black councilman.
The Rev. Herman McCray moved to Riviera Beach in 1966. The area’s affordable homes attracted a large number of black professionals, McCray said.
He and his neighbors in the Imperial Point neighborhood founded the Imperial Men’s Club to fight for services like trash collection and street lights. The club grew to more than 100 members at one time, he said, and the group’s goals expanded citywide.
“It’s just something that needed to be done,” said McCray, who later became the city’s sanitation superintendent, served on the city council, owned a successful business and sat on the county school district’s biracial committee. He and the club earned a mention in the book “Blacks and Social Change” by James W. Button.
Many of the city’s newer residents aren’t aware that before integration, Riviera Beach, like many municipalities, had separate facilities for blacks and whites, he said.
“We’ve had a used car lot, black drive-in theater, pool, gymnasium,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t have that.”