Casperson Beach Wade In
While we typically think of Jim Crow laws in the context of buses and diners and schools, the restrictions also extended to recreational areas, including Sarasota’s public beaches. In 1951, Newtown business owner Emma Jones attended a County Commissioners’ meeting to address this issue. Jones didn’t go so far as requesting an integrated beach; instead, she proposed that the Commissioners designate a local beach as a place where Black residents could go.
The Commission balked and made a counterproposal to build a swimming pool in Newtown. But a pool is not a substitute for access to a beach. Jones’ request foundered on the Commission’s agenda for years. In 1955, the Newtown community decided to push the issue. A group of approximately 100 citizens led by Sarasota NAACP President Neil Humphrey Sr. caravanned to Lido Beach and went swimming. Although the event was peaceful, Coolidge Park—where the beach was located—was closed due to “safety concerns.” The “wade-in” prompted the newspaper to demand action to create an all-Black beach, noting that “[Integration of our beaches] will wreak havoc with our economic life – for Sarasota depends on tourists.” Still, no progress was made, although the City did build a community center with a swimming pool in Newtown.
Over the years, wade-ins continued to take place on beaches across Sarasota County. This painting recreates a picture of James Sims and Bert Irons at a wade-in on Caspersen Beach in Venice in 1956. In 1961 the federal government threatened to withhold funding to fight beach erosion if Sarasota’s beaches remained segregated, which had some effect on loosening resistance to integration. It wasn’t until the late 1960s—years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act--that Sarasota beaches became fully integrated.
As to the gentlemen pictured here, the young Mr. Sims later became a minister and served as pastor at Union Missionary Baptist Church, Venice’s only Black church. He also was valedictorian of his graduating class at the integrated Sarasota High School in the late 1960s. Information about Mr. Irons is not available.
To read more about the struggle for the integration of Sarasota’s beaches, go here.
Luther was born and raised in Michigan, but has been in Florida since 1989. He never went to art school. He learning how to draw by looking, and asking. "I've loved to draw since I was a kid, couldn't afford paints, but always had a pencil, a #2 and a sheet of paper, later color. Color pencils taught me about color blending, now, painting, it all has just transformed. I have to add, Denise Kowal, the Chalk Festival, I love, I've been helped and inspired, to step out of the box. A person, an organization that are truly special to me, and one day we will all prosper because of it. No borders, no boundaries. Lastly, Sarasota, my home for decades, I didn't realize the length and breath of the trials and tribulations for people like me, having grown up in the North. But things are a changing, with folks like Denise, and myself. Lets make the change for the best! The story of black folks in Sarasota, their hard work to build this city, with no recognition, but I felt I would do my part. My part to bring history to the present and the future. Because it took all of us to do so, so lets give credit to where credit is do."
Nanette Crist is a retired lawyer who began blogging when she moved to Florida. It was an online diary of sorts, a way to keep track of her new life. It was also a good way to share her discoveries with friends and family outside the area. Over time, Nanette realized her writing makes her experience the world differently. She keeps an eye out for interesting things to write about and then delves more deeply into them as she crafts her words. It's all about telling the story. Nanette's blog can be found at http://nanettesnewlife.blogspot.com.