Biloxi Beach Wade-In Memorial
It’s been 60 years since the Biloxi Wade-Ins when unarmed African American protesters suffered while taking a stand to desegregate the beaches.
The Biloxi beaches are known as a place to lay in the sun and relax. In the 1960s, they were a battleground for the fight against segregation. Saturday night at the Lighthouse Pavilion in Biloxi, many gathered to commemorate the 1959, 1960, and 1963 Civil Rights wade-ins where local African Americans, led by Dr. Gilbert R. Mason Sr., gathered on the beach in an attempt to desegregate them. Memorial Co-host Madison Pavlus said, “Not very many people know about it and it’s not taught in high schools or education-wise at all. So, trying to bring attention to it, make people aware and educate them a little bit.”
Part of the memorial included a roll call where names of every person who participated in the protests were called out. Biloxi native Le’Roy Carney was one of those names. “I was involved in the sit-in at the Woolwork’s lunch counter downtown on Howard Avenue. I was involved in integrating the Saenger Theatre, the Avenue Theatre, the Dairy Queen on the corner of Reynoir and Division Street. I participated in just about everything in my community during the sixties on up for change for our people.”
A focal point of this year’s Wade-In Memorial was the younger generation. The NAACP Youth Organization led a march from the pavilion across U.S. Highway 90 all the way out on to the pier. “That was an exciting moment because these kids, after seeing all the injustice that they have seen in the past ten years, even at their age they’ve got television now, the internet and everything else these kids see all of this now and they, they do believe that they can make a difference. They want to make a difference because they are our future.”
While the wade-ins were ultimately successful, the federal court ruling in 1967 that the beaches are public and therefore accessible to all, Carney says there’s still more to do. “But we still have a long ways to go because you know there’s some people you are never going to change their hearts. But if they’re in city governments, state or local government their hearts have to be changed to make a difference.”