Biloxi remembers the beachfront's non-violent wade-in

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The year was 1963.  Members of Biloxi's black community were tired of not being allowed to freely use the beach.  So, they organized a wade-in.  More than six dozen people marched to the waterfront.  And hundreds of others watched from afar.

Unlike violent clashes at two preview wade-ins in 1959 and 1960, the peaceful protest in the summer of 1963 began a movement to open the beach to everyone.

On Thursday night, Biloxi will recognize the 50th anniversary of that wade-in with a reception at the city's visitors center.  The event begins at 5:30.

A article from 2010 detailed the previous, more violent wade-in protests.  Those were coordinated by the NAACP.

The current president of the Biloxi NAACP is James Crowell.  He remembers growing up in a racially tense Mississippi.  "It was very, very rough on people back in those days," said Crowell.

Today, Crowell is president of the Biloxi NAACP. A local organization founded by civil rights leader Dr. Gilbert Mason.  "At the time when Dr. Mason served, it wasn't a popular thing to be a part of the NAACP," said Crowell.

Now, Crowell is pleased to tell how the 100-year-old organization, founded by white Jewish people, is a melting pot with millions of members across the world.  "We've come a long way, but we still have a few things to do," said Crowell.

Crowell said in his perfect world, there would be no need for the NAACP. But the fight for better jobs and equal pay is far from over.

"You can't legislate that. People's hearts have to come to it," said Felicia Dunn-Burkes.  Dunn-Burkes can recall her father's tireless effort to end segregation on Mississippi's beaches. Decades later, the Gulfport attorney speaks of a different struggle.  "There's not a comfort level with you being the representative of, or the leader of, or the face of, or the image of. I do see that as being a problem here in South Mississippi still," said Burkes. "There are people who just hate."

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