Monday, October 19, 2015

Biloxi, Mississippi: Civil Rights Wade-Ins

The fight for civil rights in the Deep South took many forms. This one involved bathing suits, sort of.

Dr. Gilbert Mason, a Biloxi physician, joined seven African American friends for a trip to the beach in 1959. He was told by authorities to leave, even though those authorities had no idea what sort of law he had broken.

The battle over access heated up in April of 1960. Ten people were shot in a weekend of street fighting, and Dr. Mason was arrested. His house was firebombed that Sunday night. The Justice Dept. sued Biloxi to try to gain access for blacks to public beaches.

One last protest took place in 1963. A total of 71 protesters were arrested. But four years later, the Justice Dept. won the case, and the entire beachfront was opened to everyone the next year.

Later, a former Governor (William Winter) came to Biloxi to apologize essentially for his lack of courage in the matter. Part of Route 90 in the area is now named after Dr. Mason.

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