The Bloody Wade-In

(1960) On April 17th, Gilbert Mason was arrested for trespassing at the beach. This was Mason’s second attempt to integrate the beach. On the first incident, he was warned that he would be arrested if he returned. Mason returned a week later and was taken into custody. Mason’s defense stated that there weren’t any laws prohibiting anyone from using the beach and that the beach was maintained with public money and should therefore be open to the public. The judge decided to take the case under advisement, and a ruling was never made. This judicial tactic was common in Mississippi under Governor Ross Barnett. Evidence from this case is held today in the Sovereignty Commission’s files.

Ethel Rainey, James Black, students from Nichols High, and friends helped Mason organize another wade-in for that following Sunday, April 24, 1960. They assigned three designated areas on the beach as target areas for wading. Three groups were assembled and each group had their own appointed place to go to. The three designated areas were as follows: the foot of Gill Avenue, the lighthouse, and a mile east of the lighthouse in front of the Biloxi Hospital. Nothing (combs, picks, pocketknives, pins, etc.) was to be taken to the beach. They were coached in nonviolence tactics and were instructed to cover their heads and tuck if attacked.

On the day of the wade-in, about 125 people assembled at Mason’s office. Three groups were assembled and were informed of their appointed destinations. When the clock struck 1:00, the groups began to move towards the beach. What started out as a peaceful demonstration ended up as a bloodbath. As Mason and the others neared the beach, they met up with a big mob of whites toting bricks, chains, baseball bats, cue sticks, and pipes. A couple of heroic people who participated in the demonstration and who were badly beaten were Le’Roy Carney, Joe Lomberger, Gilmore Fielder, Mr. Dorothy Galloway, Mr. James McGowan, Sr., Kenneth Thames, Marzine Thames, Luzell Bullock, Sandford Williams, and Wilmer B. McDaniel. Many were shipped to the Biloxi Hospital, Keesler Air Force Base, the nearby veteran’s hospital, and Dr. Mason’s office. Tetanus shots had to be administered, gashes were sewn, and eye and head injuries were tended to. Most of the demonstrators were beaten badly as onlookers, such as the law enforcement, stood watching. As reported by the Clarion Ledger, at least eight blacks and two whites suffered gunshot wounds. Two young black men, Bud Strong and Malcomb “Papa”Jackson, a member of Mason’s scout troop, were tragically murdered in a continuing racist crime wave on the coast.

The Clarion Ledger and Daily News reported this as the bloodiest riot in Mississippi history.