Harrison County

Grant finalist from Biloxi aims to remember Coast civil rights movement

David Perkes
David Perkes

One of the 144 finalists in the Knight Cities Challenges is from Biloxi.

The finalists, narrowed down from 4,500 ideas submitted, were revealed Tuesday. The winners will be announced in June and will share up to $5 million to implement their ideas.

David Perkes said as he thought about what the Knight Foundations is looking for in the challenge — what’s special about your city and how that can engage the community — he and others at the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio came up with the idea that got them into the finals.

“Witnessing the Beach” is a way to to engage people across race, income and age differences, he said, and bring attention to Biloxi’s part in the civil rights movement.

Perkes proposes building moveable platforms or surfaces that can be rolled out onto the beach where the 1960 wade-in protests were staged. This would allow residents and visitors to bear witness to the wade-in protests and discuss today’s racial challenges, he said.

“The Wade-in protesters are now seniors, and their witnesses of work to overcome racial discrimination in 1960 are especially needed today,” he said. Many of these people are in wheelchairs or can’t walk on the beach.

The wade-in protests eventually led to the desegregation of the public beach in 1968. Perkes said over the last few years the Design Studio has worked to commemorate the wade-ins with the NAACP, Back Bay Mission and Gilbert Mason Jr., whose father, Gilbert Mason Sr., led the protests.

The first round of the challenge allows a very brief description.

“Crafting the entry to get every word to count is a challenge,” Perkes said. The next round allows him and the Design Studio partners a chance to develop the plan.

This third Knight Cities Challenge was open to ideas in 26 communities where the Knight-Ridder newspapers were published, including Biloxi-Gulfport. Perkes said he has entered ideas all three years and was a finalist the first year.

The Design Studio, an outreach program of Mississippi State University, started in Biloxi right after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. Perkes said it has a staff of about 10 full-time architects, planners and landscape architects who work with students and collaborate on important community projects.

“Certainly, our work is best when we work with community partners,” he said.