The Biloxi Wade-In civil rights protests were convened by local Black residents of Biloxi, Mississippi. Dr. Gilbert R. Mason, Sr., led the protests to desegregate Mississippi beaches along the Gulf Coast. It was the first major civil rights protest in Mississippi. The first wade-in took place on May 14, 1959, when Mason tried to swim at the beach with friends and their children.  A police officer ordered the group to leave due to violating segregation laws.  Mason and another protestor, Murry J. Saucier, Jr., went to the police station to determine if any laws had been broken.  They received no answer.  So they returned the following day, resulting in a meeting with the Mayor of Biloxi, Laz Quave.  Mayor Quave informed them they would be arrested if they returned to the beach. 

Several weeks later, in June 1959, Mason’s friend, Dr. Felix. Dunn penned a letter to the Harrison County Board of Supervisors asking, “What laws, if any, prohibit the use of the base facilities by Negro citizens?” The Board of Supervisors president responded, informing Dunn that, “the beach and water from the shoreline extending out of 1500 feet, meaning that black swimmers were trespassing if they came onto the beach. 

In October 1959, Mason, Dun, and two other black residents petitioned the board of supervisors to allow black residents to use the beach. A supervisor asked them if they would settle for using a segregated part of the beach. Mason told the board no. On April 17, 1960, Mason returned to the beach again and was arrested.  Word spread quickly about his arrest.  Black residents in Biloxi committed to joining Mason in subsequent protests.  On April 24, 1960, “Bloody Wade-In Day” took place when Mason led a group of 125 black men, women, and children gathered on the beach.  Violence ensued when white segregationists began to throw rocks and fired shots over the heads of protestors.  Ten people (eight black men and two white men) were injured by gunfire.  While numerous others were injured as fights broke out.  Local police took no action to prevent or stop the violence against Black protestors.  Mason was arrested and convicted for disturbing the peace.  The United States Justice Department sued the city of Biloxi for denying beach access to Black residents.  City officials ignored the lawsuit, resulting in another protest and lawsuit by Black residents.

Wade-ins continued sporadically, with the last one being held on June 23, 1963 (two weeks after the assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers). Biloxi protestors placed black flags along the beach in memory of Evers.  Dozens of Black residents were attacked during the protest.  Police arrested 71 primarily Black protestors. More than 2,000 white counter-protestors vandalized cars and assaulted Black protestors until police restrained them.  The 1964 Civil Rights Act’s passage officially desegregated Biloxi’s beaches.  However, it would not be until 1968 that Biloxi beaches were finally opened to all races.

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