Final Biloxi Wade-in Anniversary RememberedBy Evelina Burnett | Published 24 Jun 2013 10:36am |
A marker commemorates the Biloxi beach wade-ins (photo by Evelina Burnett)
Civil rights leaders on the Mississippi Gulf Coast are remembering their efforts to integrate the beaches in Biloxi. Fifty years ago, a series of protests called wade-ins were held, with blacks heading out to the coast’s segregated beaches. MPB Gulf Coast reporter Evelina Burnett tells the story of the last of these watershed acts of civil disobedience.
James Black was a teenager when he participated in the last of the Biloxi beach wade-ins, on June 23, 1963. Now pastor of Faith Tabernacle of Praise in Biloxi, Black says it was a hot day, typical of summer on the coast. Black says, that day, he wasn’t thinking about the wade-in’s significance regionally or nationally.
At the time of the 1963 wade-in, there was already a case in federal court attempting to open access to the beaches, filed by the Justice Department just weeks after the 1960 wade-in three years earlier. But that case had stalled, so Dr. Gilbert Mason Sr., a Biloxi doctor and founder of the Biloxi chapter of the NAACP, decided to organize another wade-in, to try to push the case through the state, rather than federal, court system.
Seventy-one people were arrested that day. The case did go to court, but USM history professor James Pat Smith says the ‘63 wade-in was also significant because it shows the perseverance of the community’s leaders. Smith says, at the same time they were pushing for desegregation of beaches, Mason and others were pressing for school integration and open access to local businesses.
It took until 1968 for a federal ruling to be handed down that finally opened all of the Coast’s beaches to everyone.
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