Florida wade-ins to end racial segregation of public beach and pools (Civil Rights Movement) 1945-1964

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Timing
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
The campaign did not see much active protest between 1946 and 1952. The most eventful time period existed during the summer of 1964, up until the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
May
1945
to
July 2nd
1964
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Florida
Location Description: 
Virginia Key Beach (Dade County), Fort Lauderdale (Broward County), Lido Beach (Sarasota), St. Augustine, Miami
Goals: 
To gain equal access and usage of safe public beaches and pools for African Americans.

Statement example: "A public bathing beach for colored people in Broward County"- the Negro Professional and Business Men's League, Inc., May 14th 1946.

 

In a time that many considered the “post-Jim Crow” era, racial segregation of unequal public facilities remained the norm throughout Florida. First expressed in the Fort Lauderdale Daily News in 1927, African American communities were unhappy with being constrained to a single “colored leisure beach”; an uninhabited and inconvenient strip of land that was inferior to the “white beaches”. It was not until 1945 that African American leaders in Dade County began to plan action to challenge and draw attention to this injustice.

Under the Urban League of Greater Miami, Negro Service Council members Lawson Thomas and Ira P. Davis came up with the idea to put a spin on the popular civil rights lunch counter sit-ins that had drawn national attention. In order to gain access to swimming facilities, they proposed nonviolent “wade-ins” at Florida white beaches and pools, starting with Baker’s Haulover Beach. African Americans would simply enter and enjoy the public waters just as the white beachgoers did. They reasoned that if “waders” were arrested, the issue would be acknowledged by authorities, and they could finally challenge the segregation in court.

In Fort Lauderdale, the Negro Professional and Business Men’s League also began its attempt to make the concern over lack of public beaches a recognized issue. On 14 May, 1946, leaders brought a petition requesting “a public bathing beach for colored people” to the Broward County Commission. An integrated beach was desired, but they knew this proposal would be perceived as too radical.The county appointed a committee to work on the issue, but little came of the matter. The City of Fort Lauderdale tried again to address the request in 1949, similarly ending in disappointment.

The first act of support came in 1952 when the Fort Lauderdale Hotel Association publically supported the campaign for an African American recreational beach. The next year, the single existing “colored beach” was bought by developers and turned into the Galt Ocean Mile, leaving African Americans without any beach options. Broward County finally responded by purchasing a strip of land in the Everglades for African American use. To the activists’ dismay, there was no road to this isolated beach and people had to take long and unreliable ferry trips just to access it. There were no facilities, tables, shelter, or bathrooms constructed.

On 3 October, 1955, 100 African American Floridians finally responded to the lack of action by piling into cars to Lido Beach to stage wade-ins. The city of Sarasota first responded without violence by placing “no parking” signs to turn around the caravans and by simply closing parks altogether. The county even built a “colored swimming pool” to appeal to waders, but wade-ins continued.

By September of 1960, the wade-ins started gaining attention. Via a NAACP-filed lawsuit, a US federal court reiterated that Miami’s black residents should be allowed to use public swimming facilities. However, de facto-segregation persisted as police did not enforce the court order and facility owners continued to discriminate.

In the summer of 1961, local NAACP leaders Dr. Von Mizell and Eula Johnson organized frequent wade-ins on Fort Lauderdale beaches. Participants of all ages were recruited to join the campaign, where they were met at the beaches by a threatening police force, ax-wielding KKK members, and white beach-goers catcalling and holding weapons. Physical violence, however, did not occur.

The city filed a lawsuit against the NAACP, and police arrested black waders for “disturbing the peace” and “inciting chaos.” The NAACP sent its best lawyers and advocates, and by 1962, a state judge ruled against white-exclusive beaches.

On 17 June, 1964, the campaign had reached St. Augustine. A successful two-hour long wade-in by 35 people drew attention and garnered some black and white support. On June 24th, however, white beachgoers did not allow waders to reach the water by physically blockading the shore. Due to the court-ordered desegregation, the police had no choice but to protect the black activists from the threat of violence by the white crowd, but they did not aid them in reaching their objective. That night, white groups, such as the National States Rights Party, conducted anti-black speeches, and 300 whites marched to protest integrating the beaches.

The next day, African Americans in St. Augustine famously planned to “beat the heat and segregation” by entering Monson Motor Lodge; an “integration testing ground” for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). As black swimmers enjoyed the pool, the hotel manager poured a bottle of acid into the water and an off-duty policeman eventually jumped into the pool to beat the noncooperative swimmers. The swimmers were arrested but photos of the injustice began to circulate around the world, infuriating many as a symbol of “barbaric racism.” The local Grand Jury asked Dr. King to leave St. Augustine.

On 22 June, police arrested 22 waders. State Senator Verle Pope offered himself as a mediator to a biracial committee to address the tensions. He was deemed by some an ally to the African American community, and local whites smashed the windows to his office. A Danish photographer who recorded the wade-ins was also brutally beaten.

In the most violent incident on 25 June, whites, including police, attacked 75 people during a wade-in. Later that night, 500 white people attacked demonstrators in St. Augustine, including SCLC leader C.T. Vivian, and hospitalized 19 people, many of whom were in severe condition.

In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed largely as a result of the Civil Rights Movement and the many campaigns it encompassed. Attempts to uphold segregation were more seriously criminalized under the Act, so facility owners and police could no longer promote segregation. It became possible for public swimming facilities throughout Florida and the country to finally be utilized fairly by African Americans.

Research Notes
Influences: 

The "waders" were influenced by the widespread lunch counter sit-ins that were taking place all over the South to protest public segregation. (1)

The campaign influenced national wade-ins in other parts of the country where segregation exitsed, such as in Rainbow Beach, Chicago, throughout Mississippi, and South Africa (2)

Sources: 
"60 Years Ago, Blacks Desegregated Fla. Beach." The Washingtion Times. Web. 20 Mar. 2015. <http://web.archive.org/web/20150320173606/http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/jul/19/60-years-ago-blacks-desegregated-fla-beach/?page=all>.

"Racial and Civil Disorders in St. Augustine: Report of the Legislative Investigation Committee." University of Florida Library. Tallahassee, 1965. Print.

Bynum, Thomas.NAACP Youth and the Fight for Black Freedom, 1936–1965. University of Tennessee Press 30 Aug. 2013. Print

Crawford, William G. Florida's Big Dig: The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway from Jacksonville to Miami, 1881 to 1935. Cocoa, FL: Florida Historical Society, 2006. Print.

Connolly, Nathan Daniel Beau. "By Eminent Domain: Race and Capital in the Building of an American South Florida." (2008). Dissertation. Retrieved 30 April 2015. https://web.archive.org/web/20150430222218/http://www.academia.edu/684308/By_eminent_domain_Race_and_capital_in_the_building_of_an_American_South_Florida

Longa, Ernesto. "Lawson Edward Thomas and Miami's Negro Municipal Court." Web. 20 Mar. 2015. <http://dspace.unm.edu/bitstream/handle/1928/3586/LE Thomas 2.pdf>. Retrieved 30 April 2015.

Nielsen, Kirk. "A Historic Dip: Witnesses to the Segregated History of Virginia Beach Tell a Sorry but Inspiring Tale." Miami New Times 8 Apr. 1999. Print

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Jasmine Rashid 1/30/15