Photo credits: The Associated Press/Smithsonian Magazine
On April 26, 1960, Black activists strolled onto Biloxi Beach on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast in a locally-organized peaceful demonstration to stage a “wade-in” challenging the segregated beach area.
A mob of angry white racists confronted the Black campaigners and demanded they leave the beach. When the Black people refused to leave, the angry white mob attacked them with sticks, clubs, pipes, and whips. Local police officers stood by and did nothing. When white pilots from a neighboring Air Force installation attempted to aid wounded demonstrators, they were assaulted as well.
According to the Equal Justice Initiative, the violence on the beach sparked numerous additional violent incidents in Biloxi. Angry white mobs harassed, assaulted, and even fired guns at Black citizens. Many Black individuals had to be led from their places of employment to their homes by deputies to escape the violence. Others opted to remain at work rather than try to get home that evening.
The Biloxi beach riots prompted the formation of a Biloxi NAACP chapter and sparked a court battle to allow people of color access to local beaches. In 1960, the United States Department of Justice launched a lawsuit to desegregate beaches. As a result of the legal action, beaches in Mississippi were formally desegregated 12 years later.