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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