BILOXI, Miss. (AP) — Gilbert Mason Jr., who grew up in the civil rights movement and became a physician and a Black and civil rights historian, has died at age 68.
Mason died Wednesday and funeral arrangements were not yet complete, according to Infinity Funeral Home in Biloxi.
Mason was 5 years old in 1959, when he watched his father, Gilbert Mason Sr., lead Biloxi’s first wade-in to desegregate beaches, the Sun Herald reported. And his name was on the 1971 lawsuit that made Biloxi schools the state’s first to integrate.
Like his father, Mason became a physician who served poor people. His practice was in the New Orleans area but he returned to Biloxi when his father became ill.
The elder Mason died in 2006. The son spent his last years documenting civil rights and Black history and his father’s accomplishments, the newspaper reported.
Father and son both had photographic memories, said Clemon Jimerson Sr.
He said the younger Mason’s memories helped to document the history of scouting on the Mississippi Coast, the music history of Biloxi and other areas for the Mississippi Blues Trail, the integration of Coast schools and the preservation of Nichols Elementary, the historically Black school in East Biloxi.
He also organized annual wade-in anniversary observances, said Allytra Perryman, former program director at East Biloxi Community Collaborative and now lead organizer for a nonprofit working to improve conditions for restaurant workers in Mississippi.
“He was a phenomenal historian who could recall details and knew exactly how to connect the dots,” she said, and what people were involved. “Recounting that history has just been priceless.”
Mason was involved in getting a wade-in mural painted on Main Street and a historical marker, which was dedicated in 2020, on the beach.
Biloxi did not integrate 26 miles (42 kilometers) of public beaches until 1968. Wade-ins in 1959 and 1960 included one during which a white mob attacked 125 nonviolent demonstrators and riots followed. Two Black men died.