May 14 marks the 57th anniversary of the first of the Biloxi beach wade-ins, which helped de-segregate the state’s beaches. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, the wade-in’s will be included in an exhibit on sit-ins and other public protests in the state’s new Civil Rights museum.
The names of nearly 150 participants in the beach wade-ins were read during a ceremony in Biloxi Thursday. Former Governor William Winter was one of the speakers at the event. He urged the audience to remember the progress that’s been made but also to keep civil rights at the top of the agenda.
"And make a commitment that we will not let anything interfere with our accomplishments and with our aspirations to make life better for more of our fellow citizens," he said. "We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to the brave people who waded into the Gulf of Mexico in , 1960 and 1963. We owe it to them."
The wade-ins in Biloxi were organized by Dr. Gilbert Mason, Sr. He also founded the Biloxi branch of the NAACP. Current Mississippi NAACP state president Derrick Johnson was one of the speakers at the ceremony. He said it's crucial to remember the events and people that are part of Mississippi's history.
"It is important for us to tell the story of what happened 50 years ago, so we don't lose track of where we need to go," Johnson said.
The wade-ins led to the desegregation of the beach and helped inspire other changes, including increased voter registration and school integration.
Gilbert Mason, Jr., is the son of the organizer of the Biloxi beach wade-ins. He helped put together the program held last night.
"We decided last year that we should do an annual program essentially attempting to reunite as many people as possible who had participated in the wade-ins of 1959, 1960 and 1963," he said. "The civil rights protests that Biloxi is known for. At least reasonably known for in the Biloxi area - not quite so much in the rest of the state."
The story of the wade-ins may become more widely known starting late next year when it will be included in an exhibit at the state’s new Civil Rights Museum, set to open in December 2017.