Wade in the Water

Paintings: oil on linen, toner on silk

2012

McCallum & Tarry

Undertow: St. Augustine Beach Florida, June 20th, 1964 (After Unknown Photographer, Associated Press Wire, Buffalo State College Archives)

While researching material for their Survey exhibition at the Buffalo State College Archives, the artists discovered accounts of the St. Augustine wade-in demonstration in Florida.

In the summer of 1964 the city of St. Augustine became a battleground in the Civil Rights Movement. African American demonstrators held several nonviolent “wade-ins” at segregated hotel pools and beaches. One of the largest demonstrations was at St. Augustine Beach on June 25, 1964.

Civil rights leaders, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., came to northeast Florida to show their support for the movement. There were daily conflicts across the city as African-Americans took part in a number of nonviolent demonstrations, such as attempting to eat at a fancy waterfront restaurant, an act that landed King in jail. He is said to have remarked that St. Augustine was ‘the most segregated city in America’ at the time.

The St. Augustine Beach wade-in was the culmination of more than a week of such demonstrations, but was easily the most violent. Police officers stormed the ocean, wielding batons and dragging African American demonstrators out of the water. Dozens were arrested.

The event served as a turning point in the civil rights movement, drawing national attention to the issue of segregation. The publicity surrounding these and other events hastened Congress’s actions, and just seven days after St. Augustine, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.

Wade in the Water is inspired by this event, by the ocean as a metaphor of injustice, and by the protestors who remind us that we have to be brave enough to wade into it. The title also refers to a popular song of the Underground Railroad that was used by Harriet Tubman to encourage and convey coded information to escaping slaves as they moved along the various Underground Railroad routes.

Tow The Line: St. Augustine Beach Florida, June 20th, 1964 (After Unknown Photographer, Associated Press Wire, Buffalo State College Archives)

Exhibitions

Wade in the Water

Galerie Zidoun Bossuyt, Luxembourg

2012