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Historical Marker To Commemorate Integration At Rainbow Beach

Updated 08/19/11 - 5:51 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A historical marker will be dedicated this weekend at the South Side's Rainbow Beach, which was the site of civil rights protests more than 50 years ago, as well as a race riot more than 90 years ago.

As CBS 2's Derrick Blakley reports, when a black teenager strayed onto a whites-only beach in 1919, it touched off a race riot that claimed 38 lives.

That's the legacy Velma and Norman Hill faced when they began their wade-in at segregated Rainbow Beach in 1960, but their non-violent protest led to a much different result.

As WBBM's Bernie Tafoya reports, the protests known as the Rainbow Beach Wade-In were held in the summer of 1960, after the family of a black police officer as chased off the beach by an all-white mob.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's Bernie Tafoya reports


On Aug. 28, 1960, Norman and Velma Hill led 30 or so black and white young people in a peaceful protest at Rainbow Beach, located at the east end of 77th Street, merely by using the beach.

"It's like everybody sort of turned their head to see us, because we were an integrated group, and they weren't accustomed to that," Velma Hill said.

But the group was confronted with hostility and violence.

"In fact, some guy from the crowd said, 'You're on the wrong beach,'" Velma Hill said.

That was followed by a racial slur, and it got far worse.

"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," Norman Hill said.

In an op-ed column on the incident in the Chicago Defender late last month, Velma Hill, who was 21 at the time, wrote that she was struck in the head with a rock and rendered "bloodied and left lapsing in and out of consciousness."

Hill wrote that a picture appeared in the Defender showing her grasping her head wound in Jackson Park Hospital and Medical Center after the attack, and the accompanying article "stirred outrage over the way we all were assaulted."

The wade-ins continued for week after week for two summers, until the de facto segregation at Rainbow Beach came to an end.

"We have a long way to go, but we've come a long way too," Velma Hill said.

She also made a physical sacrifice at the wade-in. The injuries she suffered at the protest led to a limp that she still has to this day and contributed to a failed pregnancy as well.

But she said it was worth it to make Rainbow Beach and all Chicago's public facilities open to everyone.

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