Harrison

PEOPLE

Gilbert Mason

Gilbert R. Mason was born on Oct. 7, 1928 to Mr. Willie Atwood Mason and Mrs. Alean Jackson Mason. He was delivered by a black midwife. As a young child, Mason heard a lot of stories told by his father and great grandfather, mostly about their experiences when they were younger. They also talked about the many struggles they endured while growing up in the tumultuous South and important people they came in contact with.

Mason practiced medicine in Biloxi for many years. For 43 years he served as the Vice President of the Mississippi Conference of the NAACP. He was closely associated with Medgar Evers and Aaron Henry, even serving as a pallbearer at Evers' funeral. Mason organized the first nonviolent civil disobedience campaign in the state with wade-ins beginning in 1959 to gain equal access to the Gulf Coast beaches and voter registration drives in 1960 in Biloxi.
In August of 1964, Biloxi schools became the first in Mississippi to admit black children to formerly all-white classrooms. Mason joined Medgar Evers and Mrs. Winston Hudson in the first lawsuit challenging Mississippi's system of enforced racial segregation and inequality in public schools. Mason later became a member of the first prestigious black fraternity, founded in 1906 at Cornell University, Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc. A year or so later he became a member and held position as President and Vice President of two other fraternities such as Beta Kappa Chi, a scientific fraternity, and Alpha Kappa Mu, an academic honor society also known as Phi Beta Kappa.

In the spring of 1949, Mason graduated with honors from Tennessee State with a double major in chemistry and biology with a minor in math. Later that summer he moved to Washington, D.C. to be closer to Natalie Lorraine Hamlar, his fiance whom he met at Tennessee State during his freshman year. It was always Mason's dream to attend Howard University's pre-med program. In 1950 Mason became one of the first applicants admitted into Howard University's Medical program under the leadership of Dr. K. Albert Hardin. On July 29, 1950, Gilbert and Natalie were married. Their son Gilbert, Jr. was born within the next year.

In the spring of 1954, Mason graduate from Howard Medical School with honors, and received the top award in neurology for a paper dealing with nomenclature in psychiatry. A year later, Mason moved to St. Louis for an internship at Homer G. Phillips Hospital, while Natalie and their son stayed in Mississippi. Following the completion of his internship, Mason and his family relocated to Biloxi in the summer of 1955.

"Dr. Mason was my longtime friend and an inspiration to me,"said Governor William F. Winter. "His desire to improve his home state was boundless and he worked tirelessly to see a better day come."



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EVENTS

The Bloody Wade-In

(1960) On April 17th, Gilbert Mason was arrested for trespassing at the beach. This was Mason’s second attempt to integrate the beach. On the first incident, he was warned that he would be arrested if he returned. Mason returned a week later and was taken into custody. Mason’s defense stated that there weren’t any laws prohibiting anyone from using the beach and that the beach was maintained with public money and should therefore be open to the public. The judge decided to take the case under advisement, and a ruling was never made. This judicial tactic was common in Mississippi under Governor Ross Barnett. Evidence from this case is held today in the Sovereignty Commission’s files.

Ethel Rainey, James Black, students from Nichols High, and friends helped Mason organize another wade-in for that following Sunday, April 24, 1960. They assigned three designated areas on the beach as target areas for wading. Three groups were assembled and each group had their own appointed place to go to. The three designated areas were as follows: the foot of Gill Avenue, the lighthouse, and a mile east of the lighthouse in front of the Biloxi Hospital. Nothing (combs, picks, pocketknives, pins, etc.) was to be taken to the beach. They were coached in nonviolence tactics and were instructed to cover their heads and tuck if attacked.

On the day of the wade-in, about 125 people assembled at Mason’s office. Three groups were assembled and were informed of their appointed destinations. When the clock struck 1:00, the groups began to move towards the beach. What started out as a peaceful demonstration ended up as a bloodbath. As Mason and the others neared the beach, they met up with a big mob of whites toting bricks, chains, baseball bats, cue sticks, and pipes. A couple of heroic people who participated in the demonstration and who were badly beaten were Le’Roy Carney, Joe Lomberger, Gilmore Fielder, Mr. Dorothy Galloway, Mr. James McGowan, Sr., Kenneth Thames, Marzine Thames, Luzell Bullock, Sandford Williams, and Wilmer B. McDaniel. Many were shipped to the Biloxi Hospital, Keesler Air Force Base, the nearby veteran’s hospital, and Dr. Mason’s office. Tetanus shots had to be administered, gashes were sewn, and eye and head injuries were tended to. Most of the demonstrators were beaten badly as onlookers, such as the law enforcement, stood watching. As reported by the Clarion Ledger, at least eight blacks and two whites suffered gunshot wounds. Two young black men, Bud Strong and Malcomb “Papa”Jackson, a member of Mason’s scout troop, were tragically murdered in a continuing racist crime wave on the coast.

The Clarion Ledger and Daily News reported this as the bloodiest riot in Mississippi history.

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DOCUMENTS

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