Dr. Gilbert R. Mason Sr. was a family practitioner and civil rights leader in Biloxi, Mississippi. He is also recognized for organizing three wade-ins, from 1959 to 1963, to desegregate the city’s public beaches.
Dr. Mason was born in Jackson, Mississippi to Willie Atwood Mason and Adeline (Jackson) Mason. He received his secondary education in Jackson. In 1949, Mason graduated from Tennessee State University with a BS degree and received an MD degree in 1954 from Howard University, an historically black college.
In 1955, Dr. Mason became the second black doctor in Harrison County, after Dr. Felix Dunn from Biloxi. However is most noted for organizing and participating in Mississippi’s first nonviolent civil disobedience action, known as the Biloxi wade-ins, which took place from 1959 to 1963.
Dr. Mason along with other men concerned about local conditions set up a Citizens Action Committee, hoping to lessen discrimination. In 1959 he and Dr. Felix Dunn and their families, including children, went swimming at the Biloxi beach to protest the racial segregation of the 26-mile long public waterfront. Mason and Dunn were taken to the police station and told they could not use the sandy beaches, that these were claimed as private property by adjacent homeowners.
In April 1960, Mason returned to the beach and was arrested. When other African Americans learned of this, they expressed their support of him. A week later on April 24, 1960, he and others gathered at the beach in a second wade-in. It was a group of 125 which included the young and the old. They were attacked by groups of whites across the beaches, in what became known as “Bloody Sunday.” The Biloxi police stood by without taking action.