Rainbow Beach:

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For years, a favorite summer ritual in Black Chicago’s Black community has been to gather up
family and friends, head to the lake front, and splash around on the Lake Michigan beaches that line the east side of the city.

For years, a favorite summer ritual in Black

Chicago’s Black community has been to gather up

family and friends, head to the lake front, and splash

around on the Lake Michigan beaches that line the

east side of the city.

Many Black Chicagoans who enjoy the pleasures

of the beach know that years ago these very same

beaches were forbidden zones for Blacks. White

crowds physically prevented Blacks from using the

beaches, and police looked the other way when the

violence flared up.

Velma Murphy Hill will never forget that.

Hill, 21 years old at the time, and

former Chicago NAACP Youth

Council president, joined by her

now-husband Norman Hill and 30

other NAACP Youth Council members

waded onto Rainbow Beach on

August 28, 1960, determined to

make a difference.

“I thought we ought to do something

to make our voices heard in

Chicago,” Hill, now 71, told the

Defender. “When I joined the

NAACP Youth Council I heard

about the fact that Rainbow beach

was segregated but I also heard

about the fact that there were young

people down south who were standing

up for their rights and started the

whole sit-in movement,” said Hill.

And there were things going on in

Africa with people trying to get

their independence and I thought we

ought to do something to make our

voices heard in Chicago. We wanted

to show Chicago that the beach

should be for everybody.”

The “Wade-In” protests continued

throughout the summer of 1960

and well into the summer of 1961.

After weeks and months of protesting,

the council members gained the

support of hundreds of others who

joined them on the shoreline. After

a violent struggle, almost killing

Hill who was struck in the head by

a large rock and ended up hospitalized,

city officials stepped in to

declare Chicago beaches were

accessible for all.

“I remember getting hit and my

(now) husband and my brother

grabbed both of my arms to make

sure I didn’t fall down as I went in

and out of consciousness,” said

Velma Hill. But despite the violence

and the injury, she said she wasn’t

afraid.

“When you’re in a movement it’s

because you think it’s something

bigger than you,” she said. “So I

don’t ever remember feeling fear.”

“I remember coming out of the

hospital room and everybody was

waiting in the waiting room for me

and we decided at that moment that

we were going to go back to that

beach until anybody could use that

beach and we would do it together,”

she explained.

“I regret that it had to take something

like that incident and the

demonstrations that followed to say

to the city that you have to protect

anybody who wants to use these

beaches,” she said.

Fifty years later, the “Wade-In”

protest are celebrated and acknowledged

by the city of Chicago. On

August 20, the Rainbow Beach

Wade-In Coalition will be dedicating

a plaque to Hill and all the

members of the NAACP Youth

Council who took those brave steps

and ushered in the fight for equality

in the city of Chicago.

“This plaque symbolizes the

importance of the struggle being

non-violent and directly confronting

those things that affect our

total communities,” Hill told the

Defender. “It shows that non-violent

direct action does work.”

“We wanted to use the beach in

peace,” she said. “That’s what our

goal was.”

Many Chicago organizations and

supporters will join the Rainbow

Beach Wade-In Coalition in the

unveiling and dedication of the

plaque. The coalition, by dedicating

this plaque, has a goal to not only

honor Hill and those 30 council

members but also to educate and

inspire the Black communities of

Chicago.

“It’s important to see the history

of Chicago,” Hill said. “We should

not be afraid of our history. We

should celebrate it and learn from

it.”

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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