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.
Mason was 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 Black Mississippians.
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.