In 1955, Local Heroes Staged 'Wade-Ins' to Protest Segregation

As we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and approach Black History Month, here's a look back at Sarasota's history in the civil rights movement.

By Bethany Ritz January 13, 2023

Wade-in at Lido Beach, Oct. 10, 1955. Although the wade-ins began in September, the Herald-Tribune began reporting on the beach protests in October that year.

In September 1955, just a month after Emmett Till's brutal murder was reported in the Herald-Tribune, two months before Rosa Parks sat down in a Montgomery bus, and still well before most major civil rights actions bloomed across the South, Neil Humphrey Sr., then the president of Sarasota’s NAACP chapter, walked with fellow residents of Newtown along the sand of Lido Beach—some wading into the Gulf’s soothing waters. However, according to local scholar Vickie Oldham’s research, the day was anything but relaxing. Jim Crow-era segregation policies banned African Americans from the beach, and the Newtown activists that day faced taunts and had bottles thrown at them. 

This was the first, but not last, “wade-in” held by Black Sarasota residents who wanted to claim the same right to enjoy our beaches that whites enjoyed. Beach caravans from Newtown to Lido went on for years. Some less-organized beach trips ended after participants had to dodge rocks hurled by white beachgoers, and other times Black beachgoers returned to their cars and found their tires had been slashed. The police both harassed the activists and, at other times, stepped in to protect protestors.

 The Civil Rights Act officially banned discrimination in 1964, but it took many more years for Sarasota’s beaches to become integrated. 

Visit Newtown Alive to learn more about the history and cultural heritage of Newtown, one of Sarasota's oldest communities. newtownalive.org

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