MS honors Coast Civil Rights activist

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - More than half a century after a Gulfport physician stood up and said no to Jim Crow, Mississippi recognized the late Dr. Felix Dunn for his work in the Civil Rights movement. Dunn's story of struggle for racial equality is told through the eyes of his daughter Felicia Dunn-Burkes.

Easter Sunday 1960 is a vivid childhood memory of a family picnic on the Gulfport beach.

"After church, we came home, and mother said 'I bought you all, instead of Easter baskets, I bought you all pails and shovels and spades and a beach ball. We're going to the beach,'" said Dunn-Burkes. "I was six and my brothers were three and five, respectively. We were like okay. Let's go to the beach."

Dr. Felix Dunn's family time at the beach was cut short that day. Segregation laws at the time barred Blacks from the Harrison County beach.

"Oh, we weren't there probably 25 minutes when here comes Gulfport police," said Dunn-Burkes. "My dad says to my mom from the seawall 'put the children in the car and follow me. I've got to go with the officers.' So they put my dad in the back of the police car. They didn't handcuff him. Put him in the back of the car, and we drove down the beach. Went straight to what was back then the old jail."

More than 50 years later, a group gathered on Highway 90 near where the Dunn children played in sand. A historical marker recognizes how Dr. Dunn didn't back down from what he believed was right.

"The following Sunday, the Sunday after Easter. We went back down to the beach again. We were able to have our picnic. No police came, no mobs came. There was no violence," Dunn-Burkes said. "Although there was slow and trickling members of the community who would go down to the beach intermittently until the Board of Supervisors had to accept the fact through a court order decree that the beach was open to the public and could not be segregated."

Harrison County District Four Supervisor William Martin spoke at the ceremony.

"I stand here now as a member of the Harrison County Board of Supervisors that denied your father the right and your family the right to come on this beach. I don't know if anybody ever apologized for that. But if they didn't, I'm saying we're sorry," Martin said.

Dunn-Burkes, a Gulfport Municipal Judge, said her parents taught her that no matter what life throws at you, always carry yourself in a way you can hold your head up high. That's an example she hopes the younger generations will follow.

"Young people need to understand that no matter what their circumstances are, no matter how much they think the world is against them, no matter how hard they think they have it. If they have God on their side, right in their heart and they have prepared themselves and resolved themselves to stand steadfast, they will prevail," Dunn-Burkes said. "But you've got to be right. You can't do right wrong."

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History placed a second historical marker at Dr. Felix Dunn's medical clinic. The family said it was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan because of his active involvement with the Civil Rights Movement.

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