Hotel Life: Employment Opportunities
For much of the 20th century, African Americans were not permitted to stay in the grand hotels. But they did obtain employment from them in a variety of jobs, such as cook, bellman, or housekeeper. When the Florida East Coast Hotel Company brought employees in for the Royal Poinciana and The Breakers during the winter season, they were housed in segregated barracks.
Among the staff were baseball players hired from the Negro Leagues to play afternoon games for the entertainment of the hotel guests; the baseball diamond was at the corner of County Road and what is now Royal Poinciana Drive.
Other African Americans operated and sometimes owned wheelchairs called “Palm Beach Chariots”, “lazy-backs,” or in later years, “Afromobiles.” Wheelchair men pedaled the bicycles attached behind one- or two-seated wicker chairs, but without a passenger, racial segregation limited where the African American operators were permitted to go. Flagler introduced the chairs for his guests’ convenience after experimenting with jinrikishas (rickshaws) from Japan. According to pioneer Mary Majewski Brewer: “They [the rickshaws] didn’t last too long, because they had quite a few accidents with them. Sometimes the passengers were heavier than the man pulling them and over they would go. So after a few lawsuits, Flagler decided that was it!” The wheelchairs were quite a different matter; for many years they were the main form of transportation on the island and in West Palm Beach.
© Historical Society of Palm Beach County.