This weekend, the Tybee MLK Human Rights Organization will celebrate equal access to public areas, one of the most visible freedom struggles of Black Americans, with its annual “wade-in.” This is a part of their commemoration for Juneteenth, which for the first time this year is recognized as a U.S. and Georgia holiday.
While there were previous wade-ins, in 2015 the event on Tybee was officially recognized as an annual Juneteenth event to bring awareness to the struggles of African Americans in Coastal Georgia.
Juneteenth — June 19 — is recognized as the anniversary of the date in 1865 when enslaved Blacks in Texas were told of their freedom, more than 2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation became official Jan. 1, 1863.
“This American history is just not told, and it needs to be told,” said Julia Pearce, who’s with the Tybee MLK organization.
According to Pearce, in the early 1960s Tybee Island Beach was segregated. Students from Savannah State University and the NAACP under the tutelage of Civil Rights leader W.W. Law trained young people to be nonviolent and to challenge Jim Crow segregation laws that were in force on Tybee.
As a part of this nonviolent challenge in the 1960s, some African Americans waded in the water on Tybee and got arrested as they stood up for their rights to be on the beach.
Former mayor of Savannah Edna Jackson was a part of the wade-ins on Tybee in the 60s as a teenager. Jackson said that people would leave the water when they saw the waders about to go on the beach.
Jackson said that if Black people wanted to go to the beach they had to travel north to Hilton Head, S.C., and other beaches that would allow them.
“It wasn’t about necessarily wanting to go but it was about having the right to go,” Jackson said.
Jackson was arrested for participating in one of the Tybee wade-ins and spent a night in jail. She said that even though the wade-ins never became violent, there were always police on the beach ready to arrest any waders who would come.
Along with the wade-ins, Jackson also participated in many other sit-ins and kneel-ins in Savannah.
“There are very few of us left that were a part of the original Civil Rights movement in Savannah, and people need to know the history,” Jackson said.
The event and Juneteenth are made to honor the struggles that African Americans went through.
Pearce says the event also recognizes the story of the lazaretto, or quarantine spot, on Tybee. When slave ships first arrived on Tybee, the enslaved occupants were quarantined at the stopping point on what is now Lazaretto Creek. Those who survived quarantine would be sold at Savannah’s city market; if they died, their bodies were left there at the lazaretto, Pearce said.
The Tybee MLK Human Rights Organization hopes people learn something from this event.
“Our event is about history and how African Americans played a part in that history,” Pearce said. The organization wants people to know the African American story on Tybee, and Pearce said they plan to start a Historic Black Tybee Tour.
“You can not tell the American story or the Georgia story without telling the African American story,” Pearce said.
Along with the Wade In happening on Juneteenth, the group organized a Juneteenth Celebration on Saturday and Sunday. There will be vendors, entertainment, guest speakers, live music, and performing artists.
The Wade-In is from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Sunday, and the Juneteenth Celebration is from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Both events are being hosted on the Tybee Beach Pier pavilion.
Other area events will include:
- Pooler Juneteenth Celebration, 200 Tanger Outlets Blvd., Pooler
- Juneteenth Savannah, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 2299 Montgomery St,
- Juneteenth Celebration Festival, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, 1301 E Victory Dr. Savannah
- Juneteenth Free Family Day with Activities, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 207 W York St, Savannah