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Wading In - Desegregation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast

Wading In

Desegregation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast

By Amy Lemco
Hardcover : 9781496847164, 206 pages, 12 b&w illustrations, September 2023
Paperback : 9781496850348, 206 pages, 12 b&w illustrations, September 2023

A powerful history of the first nonviolent civil disobedience campaign along Mississippi's beaches


Wading In: Desegregation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast frames the fight for beach and school desegregation within the history of Black life in Biloxi, beginning with the arrival of slave ships on the Gulf Coast islands in 1721. Detailing the buildup of Back-of-Town businesses, lynchings in the early 1900s, and national and state legislation repressing Black progress, author Amy Lemco contextualizes the regional atmosphere Dr. Gilbert Mason—a resilient civic leader, humanitarian, and lover of the water—and his family encountered in 1955. Using extensive archival records and interviews with survivors, the book chronicles how Dr. Mason inspired and helped organize local Black activists to peacefully protest the apartheid of Biloxi's beaches.

Dr. Mason operated under the surveillance of the State Sovereignty Commission, assaults by private citizens, and the terrors of a decade riddled with the assassinations of civil rights workers. Grassroots efforts he led and inspired in Biloxi joined with the national movement to weaken the hold of white supremacy in the state. With unwavering perseverance and bravery, Dr. Mason and fellow activists achieved the desegregation of Mississippi's beaches and made Harrison County schools the first primary school district in the state to integrate. Wading In firmly establishes Dr. Mason as a national civil rights role model and presents the story of Mississippi’s struggle to a new generation of readers.


"Deeply researched and clearly written, Wading In is a timely reminder of how determined and courageous people like Dr. Gilbert Mason can overcome generations of racism born of rank ignorance and fear. This telling of how Dr. Mason and his colleagues forced the desegregation of Mississippi’s public beaches, intertwined with the broader civil rights movement, will be a valuable addition to our ongoing discourse about race in America."

- Patrick O’Connor, director of the documentary films Look Away, Look Away and The Invisible Patients

"Amy Lemco’s important, thoroughly documented new work of public history tells the story of Dr. Gilbert Mason Sr., whose efforts were pivotal in the struggle for voter rights and the desegregation of coastal Mississippi’s schools and beaches. The courageous witness of Dr. Mason and those who worked with him deserves to be more widely known, and Lemco tells the story well."

- Joseph T. Reiff, author of Born of Conviction: White Methodists and Mississippi’s Closed Society

"Lemco’s thoroughly researched book offers readers a deep look into the incredulous journey of Black residents on the Mississippi Gulf Coast starting from their enslavement to desegregation during the1960s. . . . The struggle continues and Wading In demands that we remember our history and refuse to turn a blind eye to the present."

- Heather Ratliff Denison, Mississippi Books Page