Wade-in protesters at Rainbow Beach, July 1961.
Chicago Tribune

In August of 1960 Velma Murphy and her then fiancé Norman Hill led 30 members of the South Side NAACP Youth Council and students at the University of Chicago to Rainbow Beach in the first of many Wade-in protests. The action was spurred by the treatment of a black police officer; he and his family were run off the beach by a mob of whites.

“Inspired by lunch counter sit-ins of students from historically black colleges in the upper south and the anti-colonialist struggle of Africans for independence. We decided to initiate a wade-in at Rainbow Beach,” said Velma Hill in a 2011 interview. “We went on to Rainbow Beach as a group some reading, some playing chess and checkers, and some wading and/or swimming in the water.”

Things were fairly calm until the group of young blacks and whites were noticed. About an hour after they began the wade-in, a white mob, armed with rocks, chains, and pipes, surrounded the protestors. As the mob began to approach the group, the wade-inners gathered their belongings and began to leave the beach.

That’s when things turned ugly. Someone in the mob shouted that the integrated group was on the wrong beach. A racial slur followed. “They started throwing rocks, bricks and stones at us – in fact, Velma was hit on the head by a rock, and suffered a wound that required 17 stitches,” said Norman Hill.

The protestors, including Velma and Norman, went back to the beach the following Saturday with police protection using the facility without incident. The beach closed after Labor Day, and the wade-ins resumed the summer of 1961. The Hills were there.

Today Norman and Velma Hill remain passionate about fighting for the impoverished, the disenfranchised, the overburdened. “We and the AFL-CIO, which is the coordinating body for most unions considers jobs the top political and economic priority, with unemployment at the official rate of 9.1%,” says Norman Hill. “Jobs are urgently needed in the black community where unemployment is twice the national rate and over 20% among youth.”

“Toward this end, the AFL-CIO is proposing the following six point program to deal with the unemployment crisis:

1. Rebuild America’s schools and transportation and energy systems.

2. Revive U.S. manufacturing and stop exporting good jobs overseas.

3. Put people to work doing work that needs to be done.

4. Help federal, state, and local governments avoid more layoffs and cutbacks of public services.

5. Help fill the massive shortfall of consumer demand by extending unemployment benefits and keeping homeowners in their homes.

6. Reform Wall Street so that it helps Main Street create jobs

Says Hill, “We need a coalition similar to that which organized the 1963 march on Washington which was for jobs and freedom. The coalition should include labor, civil rights, religious institutions, and minorities as part of a majoritarian strategy for economic and social justice.”