Thursday, July 5, 2012

Florida History: Swim-ins to desegregate Fort Lauderdale beach

By Jane Feehan

It wasn’t easy for African-Americans to enjoy Fort Lauderdale beaches before the 1960s. 

One beach north of today’s Oakland Park Boulevard was designated a “Negro” beach but was closed when Galt Ocean Mile underwent development. The only other beach they were permitted to visit was south of Port Everglades, now John U. Lloyd State Park. The recreation area was accessible by ferry and lacked facilities. Broward County failed to build a road to this “Colored” beach, galvanizing the African-American community to desegregate Fort Lauderdale beach.

Nationally publicized wade-ins or swim-ins were conducted throughout the summer of 1961*. The first one, July 4, was reported by the Associated Press (Miami News, July 5, 1961):

At Fort Lauderdale eight Negroes swam at a crowded public beach while police watched. Motorcycle officers and a paddy wagon parked near the beach.

Two Negro girls and five Negro boys were led to the beach by Dr. Von. D. Mizell, Broward County secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Mizell said the swim-in was not sponsored by the NAACP.

It was the first of 200 swim-ins that summer that physician Mizell and president of the local NAACP, Eula Johnson, supported.

Fort Lauderdale filed suit in the Broward County Circuit Court against Mizell, Johnson, and the NAACP in 1961 to stop the wade-ins. Nearly a year later, Judge Ted Cabot denied the city’s request, essentially desegregating the beaches.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler commemorated the swim-ins during the city’s centennial in 2011, dedicating a plaque installed in the sand at Las Olas and A1A. Mizell and Johnson are lauded today as leaders in the city's civil rights movement. Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

*Freedom Rides to the South began May 14, 1961, a watershed year in the national civil rights movement.

For more on Dr. Mizell, see:
Miami News, July 5, 1961
Gillis, Susan. Fort Lauderdale: The Venice of America. Charleston: Arcadia (2004).
City of Fort Lauderdale:

Tags: Fort Lauderdale history, Fort Lauderdale African American history, Fort Lauderdale desegregation, Fort Lauderdale civil rights movement, film industry researcher

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