Fifty-five years ago, the famous beaches of Fort Lauderdale were clean, wide, and totally segregated. Looking out across the fine sand today, where blacks, whites, Asians and Latinos frolic freely with one another, it is difficult to imagine a time when “colored folk” had their own beach in town. Well, more accurately, it wasn’t in Fort Lauderdale at all. It was down in Hollywood at John U. Lloyd State Beach, a place then so remote that there were no roads in or out, and access was available only by boat or dune buggy.
It hadn’t always been that way, of course. Way back in 1927, when the lynching of blacks was rather commonplace in these parts, the “colored” beach was a rough patch of rocks and scrub grass full of broken glass and patches of trash on the northern edge of town. All that changed in 1953, when Arthur T. Galt sold his last bit of ocean front land to developers and the high-rise condos of Galt Ocean Mile were born.
There, the Jewish population took hold, and the blacks were pushed south to the aforementioned John U. Lloyd State Beach, where they remained—quiet, if not content, until 1961. On July 4, 1961, some local blacks led by Dr. Von D. Mizell and civil rights leader Eula Johnson led a wade-in at the white beach at the intersection of Las Olas Boulevard and AIA.
As the outraged white beach goers looked on in astonishment, Dr. Mizell and Johnson, and a group of their friends, frolicked in the ocean for a full 45 minutes before being asked to leave by the police.
The left, but continued to comeback for the remainder of the summer, forcing the city to sue the NAACP in an effort to stop the daily wade-ins which had disrupted the tourist traffic and upset the white locals. Today, such discrimination seems unfathomable. And non-discrimination policies a given.
Yet, here we are, 55 years later, on the same corner of Las Olas and AIA engaged in another protest. This time, however, it’s not the black who are protesting; but rather, the gays who have lost their effort in Tallahassee to pass the Florida Competitive Workplace Act. It is just as unconscionable in 2016 that the LGBT community can be fired from a job or refused accommodations such as a hotel room due to their sexual orientation and gender identity than in was in 1961 for blacks to be denied access to the ocean.
Banning discrimination is more than just good public policy. It’s a necessity for effective business. Some of the state’s biggest employers support the Competitive Workplace Act, including Carnival Cruise Lines, Florida Blue, AT&T, Walt Disney World, CSX Transportation, Tech Data Corporation, Darden Restaurants, NextEra Energy, Office Depot, Home Shopping Network, Marriott and Wells Fargo.
“Workforce goes where it’s welcome,” Bob O’Malley of CSX said at a press conference before the Judiciary Committee hearing, as reported by the News Service. “And entrepreneurs go where they’re welcome.”
So too do tourists, our major commodity in the Sunshine State. And all the clever media campaigns and tricky slogans in the world cannot gloss over the fact that Florida as a state remains bigoted and backward, even as it moves to continue to covet the readily disposable LGBT dollar.
As we honor Black History Month, we remind ourselves we deserve better, just as we did in 1961.