Clara Watson has many pleasant memories of growing up in Biloxi during the 1940s. The status quo nature of segregation so thoroughly permeated life that it wasn’t given much thought. In this episode, she explains how the city’s liberal atmosphere shielded her from the racial tensions faced by other black Mississippians. For instance, before the Civil Rights Movement, black customers were often turned away from white-owned businesses, but for Watson, the large number of black vendors and business-owners in her Biloxi neighborhood, blunted the impact of those imposed restrictions.
According to Watson, black residents of Biloxi had always been allowed to go to the beach and it was only after she was grown that property owners began trying to enforce a whites-only policy. On April 24, 1960, Dr. Gilbert Mason led a group of 125 black citizens to protest the “whites-only” policy at Biloxi Beach. In response, local white leaders organized a mob to attack the group and turn them back. Watson recalls the events of that day and some whites who were on opposing sides of the issue.
When civil rights workers came to the coast in 1964, Clara Watson helped them and participated in marches. She describes Biloxi as a safe haven activists could use as a base of operations.
CAUTION: CONTAINS FRANK AND RACIALLY EXPLICIT LANGUAGE
In 1999, Erik Robert Fleming became the fiftieth African American to enter the Mississippi legislature in the modern era. He discusses why he became interested in becoming a politician. Fleming also comments on race relations within the legislature and the need for coalitions.