The Newtown African American Heritage Trail was recently added to the United States Civil Rights Trail, a collection of more than 100 locations in 15 states that were sites of agitation in the fight for civil rights. The Sarasota area was added to the trail because of the Lido Beach "wade-ins"—protests created to push Sarasota to desegregate local beaches.
"In September and October of 1955, Newtown residents led by [Neil Humphrey Sr.] began challenging the old order by piling into cars and driving to Lido Beach," according to the U.S. Civil Rights Trail website. "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."
To mark the designation, Visit Sarasota County and Newtown Alive reenacted the beach caravans on Monday, bringing more than 50 participants, including some of the original protestors, to Lido Beach on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.