Surrounded by North Myrtle Beach, Atlantic Beach has a rich and complex history.
Created by black business owners in the 1930s, the community became a welcoming enclave for people who weren’t allowed on other local beaches in the era of Jim Crow and segregation.
Nicknamed “The Black Pearl,” the community even predates North Myrtle Beach, having incorporated in 1966 before the other small North Strand communities like Windy Hill, Cherry Grove, Crescent Beach and Ocean Drive Beach joined together in 1968.
Although Atlantic Beach enjoyed economic vitality in its early years, the integration of other beaches saw the community gradually lose black tourists to surrounding areas. Its oceanfront remains undeveloped.
“I’ve lived here 10 years and I was told about the history of this beach through my grandfather who had a house here for 30 years before he passed away,” said Christopher Drumgoole, who recently ran for mayor as a write-in candidate. “My mom, for years before she passed away, they told me about the history of this beach, how it came about, how this was the only place for blacks during segregation to come and feel safe, and have a place to relax, oceanside. I see that and I look around here today, and it’s far from the 1950s.”
Drumgoole doesn’t like what the town has become. The streets have little traffic compared to the bustling roads in North Myrtle Beach. Buildings sit vacant. Other plots of land, which could be developed as revenue-generating businesses, are completely empty, an odd sight for a beach town in one of the fastest-growing areas in the country.
Politically, Atlantic Beach is no stranger to controversy. In years past, the town has been plagued with election scandals, accusations of bribery, ethics complaints and charges of misconduct in office. Accusations still fly around today as townspeople and lawyers whisper about corruption.
“I can only blame leadership,” Drumgoole said. “The blocks don’t do it by themselves, it’s the people that’s running the blocks that turn it into whatever. Either they neglect it or they purposely turned it into whatever it’s become. And what it’s become is a place with a bad reputation. That has to change.”