Compelled to ensure civil liberties for all, Dr. Gilbert R. Mason, Sr. was a drum major for freedom. Often the first among a small band of conscientious, courageous citizens to peacefully agitate for equal protection under the law, economic justice, and positive social change, Dr. Mason was commonly referred to as "the civil rights doctor".
Revered and recognized for his local, state, and national activism, Dr. Mason joined friends and allies (such as Aaron Henry, Fannie Lou Hamer and the martyred Medgar Evers) to combat injustices in one of the nation's most notorious bastions of segregation, his beloved home state of Mississippi.
instrumental in the founding of the Council of Federated Organizations, better
known as COFO. In 1964, COFO coordinated the efforts of all the
civil rights groups that launched summer-long protests in Mississippi,
establishing the Freedom Summer Project, and coordinating voter registration
drives as well as political science educational programs for disenfranchised
A dedicated physician, Dr. Mason was at the vanguard of medical activism, committed to ensuring quality health care and fundamental patient rights for those on the Gulf Coast and the entire state of Mississippi. He demanded respect for the dignity of Black and White patients alike, and for equal medical privileges for physicians of color in previously all-white hospitals, and the medical community at large.
Along with his wife, Natalie Hamlar Mason, a focal point of Dr. Mason's work to systematically dismantle legal segregation was to effect equal opportunities to quality education in the public schools of Biloxi, greater Harrison County, and Mississippi at large. Through legal challenges to segregationist policies, the Masons fought Jim Crow school systems and successfully petitioned for equal access to all public schools, paving the way for youth and adults alike to gain greater scholastic achievements for generations to come.
Dr. Mason's most well-known contribution to the struggle for equal protection under the law were a series of demonstrations on the twenty-six mile long beach in Harrison County, staged simultaneously with a court case to establish legal precedent for open access to the man-made beach. The 1959 wade-in, and the series of sustained protests that followed, marked the beginning of Mississippi's first nonviolent civil disobedience campaign, and in 1968, the United States Supreme Court ruled in their favor, thus making the beautiful beach open for the enjoyment of all.
Dr. Gilbert R. Mason, Sr. passed away in 2006, but his work continues: the Biloxi chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) continues to thrive; the young man he nurtured as Scoutmaster have gone on to be, among other things, physicians, professors and magistrates; and the East Biloxi community continues to foster initiatives to better the greater community and advocate for a more perfect union.
"As the instigator of the first wade-in, I became the prime mover and chief organizer of an eight-year struggle to open Harrison County's twenty-six-mile long public beach to the full enjoyment of all citizens."
The enduring ramifications of the successful campaign to open the beach to everyone is evident today in annual events, such as the Black Spring Break, and in the preservation of the beach as a recreation area rather than an developed site. In 2008, the State of Mississippi paid honor to Dr. Mason by naming the stretch of Highway 90 between Rodenberg and Porter Avenues "Dr. Gilbert R. Mason, Sr. Memorial Highway".
"...If we failed to take a stand, we acquiesced in a kind of spiritual slavery that denied us our full manhood and womanhood. The words of that old Negro spiritual rang in my young ears: 'I'd rather be dead and in my grave than live and be a slave.'
I wanted to live."
Along with his counterpart, Dr. Felix Dunn, Dr. Mason organized successful targeted boycotts of businesses that penalized black Biloxians for participating in the campaigns for desegregation. His work with COFO also helped dismantle the barriers to voting for many Mississippians, and today people of color hold office on the local and statewide level.
Dr. Mason was also the first black proprietor admitted to the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce in 1960. More than 45 years later, his daughter, Angela Juzang, would be elected its first black President.
I hope that you find this site informative about the lives and works of Gilbert and Natalie Mason, as well as inspirational to carry their legacy of service and activism forward.
As their only granddaughter, I learned from their example and encouragement that to whom much is given, much is required. I was blessed to be a witness to their personal impact on the civil rights landscape, but also to see how they approached their mission with warmth, compassion, and conscientious, intelligent devotion to making the world a more just and verdant place for me and for generations to come.
I pray that, like them, I can keep my eyes on the prize and take their commitment to excellence forward. Thank you for visiting!
Love, Peace and Power, Aria M. Mason