BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - An inventive concept to honor Biloxi's role in the Civil Rights Movement is set to debut in 2019.
In 2017, the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio received more than $100,000 to create "Witnessing the Beach", a project that pays tribute to the Biloxi Wade-Ins in a unique way. The grant was won through the Knight Cities Challenge, a national competition that funding to ideas that take a fresh approach to civic engagement.
"The Knight Foundation funds innovative ideas that bring energy into cities around the things that make that city special," said David Perkes, architect and director of the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio.
It's been 59 years since a series of wade-in protests kicked off along the Gulf Coast. In the era of harsh Jim Crow laws, African-American protesters gathered on the beaches to lead the charge for desegregation, despite the threat of arrests and violent backlash from the community. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the city of Biloxi in 1960. After a long legal battle, by 1968, the Coast's beaches officially became public to all races.
As the design studio became more involved with the wade-in commemoration events over the past 4 years, Perkes said his team wanted to bring the celebration back to the beach.
"The proposal is a portable platform that goes out on the beach that can be used when we do these sort of events in the future," he described. "This platform can be put in different places to mark the different locations where the wade-ins occurred, and be used for various get-togethers. It could be even be an exhibit space."
For a truly public platform, designers kept accessibility in mind. "It's accessible so people in wheelchairs, or older people who were part of the wade-in, will be able to get out onto the beach and be part of some of the events," said Perkes.
Perkes hopes the project will give South Mississippi residents and visitors a chance to revisit the history that made the beaches a staple of life on the Gulf Coast. "I think people take for granted the beach as a public space," he expressed.
He added, "There was a time when it wasn't that way, when the beach was only used by a part of our community. There's such an amazing story of how these very determined and fearless people would go against everything that kept them off the beach, and put themselves in harm's way to bring about change."
The lesson that Biloxi's history brings is something Perkes says everyone should model. "That story is so important not only because it gives us the public beach we have now, but it's a good example on how we always need to be looking for ways to bring about change everyday."
"Witnessing the Beach" is projected to be ready by April 2019, just in time for the 60th anniversary of the beach wade-ins.