Soul of the Coast: Biloxi Beach Wade-Ins
As Black History Month marches on we continue to honor the struggles, sacrifices, and achievements African-Americans nationwide made to ensure equal rights for all.
Here on the Coast we continue to shine a light on those who have made a difference right in our community. In part two of our four part series ‘Soul of the Coast’ Victoria Bailey speaks with another trailer blazer in search for equality.
“We could not go on that sand because our skin color was different. I never did quit understand that psyche, that mindset.” As a graduate of both Mississippi Valley State University and Jackson State University, as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, not to mention as a marcher at the March on Washington, Bishop James Black has more than 50 years of experience fighting for equality including gaining the right to the segregated Biloxi Beach. “That early morning or mid-morning going down to Dr. Gilbert R. Mason’s office, a profound, very brave man, he was fearless in my opinion. Down at his office everyone was assembling to head to the beach. He allowed me to drive his car down to the beach. Some of the other teenagers got in the car with me and we drove down to Porter Avenue and I parked his car on the north-side of the beach.”
That morning, Black, along with 125 other nonviolent protesters started the third attempt to integrate the beach. The group arrived to motorcycle officers lining the sea wall and spectators everywhere. Black says the atmosphere was all too familiar to the first go around, known as ‘Bloody Sunday.’ “We were orderly and reminded of what we were supposed to do. Going there I don’t remember anyone being fearful, but still wondering what would happen at the end of the day. We didn’t bring any weapons. We didn’t have any knives or anything like that. We went and did what we were going to do and they did what they came to do. I don’t know, maybe 15 or 20 minutes of being organized, they came and took us away.”
That day, law enforcement came armed with an 18 wheeler to load protesters and carry them to jail. Black says those are moments he’ll never forget. “One of the strongest points in my memory is when they loaded us into the back of this truck and they tried to close the door on us. I remember the men, I was so proud of the men of that era, it’s a different species today, they started pushing back. I was a teenager and they pushed me out the way and started pushing back. They got behind that door and started pushing back and would not let them close that door on us.”
The Justice Department sued the city for denying access to African-Americans. In 1968, the department won the lengthy legal battle.
His Civil Rights leadership and service earned him several NAACP awards, community and leadership awards, and acknowledgements for service. Today, Black is founder and pastor of Faith Tabernacle of Praise in Biloxi and bishop and founder of Faith Covenant Ministries.
He hopes the younger generation will carry the legacy of the past generations and continue to fight for the rights of all. “I think for many in my generation, my age, we are somewhat disappointed because it was earned. They didn’t give it to us and we’re still fighting. The beach is so small in the overall scheme. Generations two years down it seems like the younger ones, men don’t have a clue it appears. I just wish that more younger people would embrace the memories and what has happened and I believe it would encourage them to stand up and be counted.”