Beach Integration

By: Sarah Kroth |

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Sarasota had once been a spot of contention for Sarasota civil rights activists. In October 1955 the local NAACP chapter, headed by its President Neil Humphrey, organized visits to Lido Beach in protest of the City Commission’s refusal to either open a beach for solely African American use, or integrate the Whites Only beaches. Earlier in the year the Newtown community (the segregated black community of Sarasota) had approached the City demanding that, as taxpayers, they were entitled to some of the $250,000 the county had set aside for recreational development. They wanted the city to open a beach for African American use, but the white communities surrounding all the proposed places for the beach development, rejected the idea. In response to this, the City offered to build a swimming pool in Newton, city officials citing in a meeting that they didn’t think that blacks would want to deal with the jellyfish and stingrays at the beaches. When they said this a black community member stood and said, as reported by the Herald Tribune, “If you white folks can put up with jellyfish and stingrays, I think maybe we people can put up with it too,” demonstrating the social perception, and racism inherent in the entire affair.

The protests this city planning meeting sparked were all peaceful and without out conflict. There were 3 organized trips to the beaches within one week where over 100 black community members would come to the beach for about an hour, and then leave. The Sarasota Herald Tribune reported that the whites on the beach didn’t seem to care, and only one white couple left the beach because of the black beachgoers.

Unfortunately, nothing truly came of the protests. The city put together committees, which looked at sites for the proposed black beach, and they did pick several poor quality locations—including one spot that had already been cited as eroding, and beach locations in Venice (a long drive for Newtown residents). It wasn’t until MacKinlay Kantor, a Pulitzer Prize winning author and local Siesta Key resident, wrote an editorial in the Herald Tribune in 1956, threatening to write an article for national publication entitled, “Sarasota Cheats Its Black Children,” unless a solution was found, that the city commission went ahead with plans to build a recreational pool in Newtown. The pool didn’t open until November 1957: over two years after the struggle to desegregate the beaches began. Now all that remains to remind the Sarasota community of the patient wait to desegregate the beaches is a commemorative plaque in front of the Lido Beach facility–which was added in October 2012–and the long since closed and boarded Newtown Recreation Center.

Sourced from Herald Tribune Articles, and other local newspapers, thanks to Jeff LaHurd at the Sarasota County History Center.

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