50 Years Ago ► St. Augustine Beaches Integrated ► History Is Complicated

Florida Memory reminds us that it took blood and guts to integrate Florida beaches. On this day — June 25, 1964 — White segregationists attacked the participants of a “Wade-In” at St. Augustine, Florida:

Demonstrators held several nonviolent “wade-ins” at segregated hotel pools and beaches. This film shows footage taken by the Florida Highway Patrol of one of the largest demonstrations, a wade-in held at St. Augustine Beach on June 25, 1964 (see full-length version).

Civil rights leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., came to northeast Florida to show their support for the Movement. King is said to have remarked that St. Augustine was “the most segregated city in America” at the time. He pledged to defeat segregation using nonviolence, even “if it takes all summer.”

Fort Lauderdale’s beaches were integrated a few years earlier. Two years ago Fort Lauderdale celebrated 50 years of integrated beaches, which began with illegal Wade Ins in 1961. According to CBS Miami:
On July 4, 1961, Lorraine Mizell, her sister, her uncle and some friends waded into the ocean on a beach where blacks were not allowed. Mizell would later say she didn’t know how significant her actions would be.

Fort Lauderdale’s beaches had been segregated since 1927. Civil rights pioneer Eula Johnson led wade-ins like Mizell’s over the summer of 1961 in spite of threats. A year later, a state judge ruled against the city and its whites-only beach policy.

As the Sun Sentinel tells it:

Lorraine Mizell remembers the looks of disgust and catcalls as she crossed the sand. She remembers other beachgoers fleeing from the water as she waded in.

She remembers not being afraid.

For the 19-year-old college freshman, the Fourth of July in 1961 started with a phone call from her uncle. He wanted to know if she, her sister and some of their friends would like to go to the beach with him.

Their outing will be commemorated on Monday as a turning point in the history of Fort Lauderdale and racial equality.

Her uncle, Von D. Mizell, and fellow civil rights activist Eula Johnson had decided the time had come to force the city to open its beaches to all people, both black and white. July 4 began a series of wade-ins that led to a court-ordered end of segregation on Fort Lauderdale beaches.

“When we did it, I didn’t realize how significant it would be,” said Lorraine Mizell, now 69. “I knew we were doing something to break down barriers. This was a beach that I had never been able to go to, never able to put my feet in the sand. But I didn’t know we were going to be able to change things.”

If this whetted your appetite read this PDF: The Long Hard Fight for Equal Rights: A History of Broward County’s Colored Beach and the Fort Lauderdale Beach ‘Wade-ins’ of the summer of 1961

Fifty years is not that long ago and fifty years later there are still inequities built into the system.

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.