New wade-in marker added to Freedom Trail

A new Mississippi Freedom Trail marker dedicated Tuesday memorializes the Biloxi Beach Wade-In, which led to integration of the state’s public beaches.

“The Biloxi Beach Wade-In was an important chapter in the civil rights movement both in Mississippi and America,” says Visit Mississippi Director Craig Ray. “Through more than two dozen interpretive markers, the Mississippi Freedom Trail allows us to remember these stories.”

When Mississippian Dr. Gilbert R. Mason Sr. came to Biloxi to practice medicine, laws prevented African-Americans from enjoying the 26-mile public beach in Harrison County. Mason led a small group onto Biloxi Beach in protest in May 1959. Then, he and other members of the Harrison County Civic Action Committee petitioned county supervisors for beach access in October that year. On Mason’s second attempt to integrate the beach in April 1960, he walked alone and was promptly arrested.

The next week, on April 24, 1960, Mason led 125 citizens in a non-violent protest by wading into the Mississippi Sound on Biloxi Beach. They were assaulted by a mob of white citizens carrying bricks, pipes and other implements. Local riots followed in the wake of the event, during which two African-American men were murdered.

The Biloxi Beach Wade-In garnered national news coverage and led to targeted boycotts and voter registration drives. The beaches were finally integrated on August 16, 1968. 

“The courageous citizens in Biloxi, led by Dr. Gilbert Mason, challenged Jim Crow laws by attempting to integrate the beaches,” said Dr. Leslie-Burl McLemore, chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Trail Task Force. “Before students at Rust College boycotted the segregated movie theater in Holly Springs, and before the Tougaloo Nine attempted to integrate the public library in Jackson, these brave citizens were pioneers in the struggle for social justice in Mississippi.”

Launched in 2011, the Mississippi Freedom Trail commemorates the people, places and events of the civil rights movement. For more information, visit
Gallery: See photos from the ceremony