History
10:55 am
Fri July 26, 2013

Plunging In: How Miami's Beaches Were Integrated

Garth Reeves was a young World War II veteran when he came home to Miami and went to work at his father’s newspaper, the Miami Times.

He bought property, paid taxes and voted in elections. But the beach at Virginia Key was the only one where black residents could go without trouble.

“It wasn’t a very good beach. But right down the street there was Crandon Park - beautiful beach, beautiful clubhouse. Everything was first class.”

So a meeting was arranged with the county commission.

“We got a good, solid group together. The Reverend Theodore Gibson, myself, Oscar Range. We had a strong group. We made sure that all of us were registered voters, all of us were freeholders. Years back, if you were not a freeholder, meaning if you didn't own property, there were certain things that you couldn't vote on. All of us were freeholders. We brought our tax bills with us to show that we paid.”

They told the commissioners they’d studied the charter and the ordinances. “There’s nothing to prevent us from using any of the 28 beaches that you own and control. We feel that this is unfair and we'd like to know what you plan to do about it.” 

The commissioners just sat there. “They didn’t say a word. Nobody would open a mouth. We kept talking. ‘We’d like to know what we can do in order that we don’t get beat up or brutalized or put in jail if we try to exercise our franchise.’ They didn't say anything. I guess they thought we'd just go away.”

And we did go away but first we told the commissioners, “We notice you’re not responding, so we’re coming back at 2:00 p.m. and we’re going swimming.

The next day we called the NAACP and blacks started showing up in small groups, and nothing happened.  From that day on, black people have been using all 28 beaches in Miami-Dade County. And that’s the way the beaches were integrated.

About Miami Stories: This project is a partnership between HistoryMiami, Miami Herald Media Company, WLRN and Michael Weiser, chairman of the National Conference on Citizenship.  

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