Calumet Quarter students visit Rainbow Beach Dunes

13 Jun

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This spring, I taught a course (Topics in Calumet Ecology) for University of Chicago undergrads in the Calumet Quarter — an experiential place-based program in environmental studies (check out the blog of our awesome students here). One of our field trips was to Rainbow Beach Dunes (on a cold day in May) and you can view photos of the trip here.  One of the students wrote a blog post about the history of Rainbow Beach!

The Story Behind Rainbow Beach

Since I was unable to go on the Rainbow Beach Dunes field trip I did some research on the site and did a write up on some of the interesting history of the area. The most incredible thing that I found was the story of the wade-ins that occurred in the summers of 1960 and 1961. The public spaces of Chicago were technically open to anyone at that time, but Rainbow Beach on Lake Michigan was effectively a white-only beach. On August 28, 1960 Velma Murphy Hill decided to change that. She led a small group of activists to the beach, and attempted to have a relaxing outing. However, it was uncomfortable for all of the brave activists, as many of the typical patrons of the beach stared, made comments or left. Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come. When they decided to leave the beach, a huge group of men and women hemmed the activists in and began to shout at them. As the waders continued walking to leave, the mob began to throw stones as well as screaming, and Velma Murphy Hill was hit in the head with one of the larger rocks. She was sent to the hospital and received stitches for the wound, but despite the injury continued to push for the integration of the beach.

As the summer continued, the waders did not give in to the fear or the pressure of the angry masses, heading to the beach every day and enduring the awful treatment at the hands of the other beachgoers. As the movement grew in strength, the NAACP began to provide support, lobbying the City of Chicago to protect the activists, and sending other activists to increase the number of waders. Eventually, the City of Chicago took notice and began to provide the protestors with support as well. The most famous moment of the movement occurred on July 8, 1961. The waders arrived under the protection of 200 police men to keep the mob back as the numbers continued to swell throughout the day. There were 10 arrests made that day alone, and fortunately none of the protestors were injured. The protests continued after that day, but the angry mob began to dwindle. Every day the police and waders arrived at the beach in tandem until the police were no longer necessary.

Throughout this quarter we have been studying how the people in a certain area interact with their environment, but I think that it is also interesting and important to look at how they interact with each other within that environment. Today, Rainbow Beach is a place where Chicagoans of all races can come to relax, and had it not been for the brave efforts of Velma Murphy Hill and her fellow waders, the story may not have been the same.

 

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