Wade in the Water

Florida’s Beaches were segregated. I swear that had never occurred to me. I’m from Mississippi, ground zero for the civil rights movement and the integration battles. I think of lunch counters and the Little Rock Nine and George Wallace and James Meredith. But not beaches.

I heard the program “Florida’s Frontiers” on WUWF yesterday afternoon. It was about the Forgotten Women in Florida’s history. It highlighted a woman who led the charge in integrating Florida’s beaches. Instead of sit-ins, the demonstrations were called swim-ins and wade-ins. And yes, they were as bloody and ugly as their inland counterparts. There are pictures of grown (I hesitate to use the word adult) white people in swim trunks wrestling and pummeling African-Americans also in swim trunks with uniformed policemen in the mix, all of this in less than 2 feet of water. If you don’t know the context of the photos, it looks fairly ridiculous. When you do, it is terrifying.

March 2009. We’ve just finished Black History Month and are now in Women’s History Month and are staring down a Legislative term which includes bills on Civil Unions, Gay Adoption, and Hate Crimes. Rallies are planned, lobbies are scripted and the bravest among us are converging in Tallahassee to turn the tide once more.

It’s warming up. Dawn and I will soon be spending oodles of time at the beach with 4 brilliant and curious children, 2 of which are bi-racial. This season will be different for me. The pictures will show an unlikely family paying homage at hallowed ground, a battleground. And I will marvel more at the whiteness of the sand and the green of the water and the blue of the sky. I will revel in Dawn’s energy and be grateful for my children’s innocence. And the song that will be playing over and over in my head is “Wade in the Water. Wade in the Water, Children. Wade in the Water. God’s gonna trouble the Water.”

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