Beach “Wade-Ins” for Equal Access

In Sarasota, Florida, in 1951, a campaign began to open public spaces to residents of the African-American community of Newtown. It started with a simple request for beach access, but the request fell on deaf ears. Met with resistance, Neil Humphrey Sr., Sarasota’s NAACP president and owner of Humphrey’s Pharmacy, began to more aggressively organize for change.

In September and October of 1955, Newtown residents led by Humphrey began challenging the old order by piling into cars and driving to Lido Beach. Upon arrival, they swam, walked the shore and waded in the water.

These beach wade-ins of the 1950s drew media attention and opened an early front in the fight for equal rights years before better-known state and national victories of the 1960s. The wade-ins, modeled after lunch counter sit-ins, coupled with activists’ attendance at city and county commission meetings moved the needle toward beach access at a time when less than two miles of Florida’s 2,000 miles of beaches were open for use by African-Americans. It wasn’t until the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 that Sarasota County beaches were fully integrated.


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