Ga. State Rep. Edna Jackson
Ga. State Rep. Edna Jackson

Get To Da’ Wata’

The 11th Annual Wade In The Water event is set for June 19 at Tybee Island

Representative Edna Jackson (D-165), former Mayor of Savannah, says, “every year I look forward to the Wade In The Water event at Tybee Island. I enjoy the water and think about the people who made the sacrifices.”

On June 19, people will gather under the pier at Tybee Island to pay homage to those who were arrested in the fight to desegregate Savannah’s beach.

Jackson was one of those who made the sacrifices to desegregate Tybee Island in the early 1960s, “They stopped our car when we were just about ready to get out and get ready to get in the water. We were arrested and had to stay overnight in the jail.”

The first wade-in was on August 17, 1960; eleven Black students were arrested.

Savannah Beach wade-ins continued through 1963. During those years, hundreds of young African Americans braved the whites-only waters, in an act of resistance against segregationist Jim Crow laws.

Savannah Beach and Tybee Island's other public places were integrated by October 1963, with the last wade-in occurring in July 1963.

Jackson never made it to the water the day that she was arrested, but now enjoys letting the waves wash over her feet. “If you go to Africa and you come back, that water brought the slaves here from our homeland, and some died in that water.”

Now, when she goes to Tybee, Jackson says that she reflects, “God is still up there, and he is the one that we have to give the glory to. We have to because what we did was done in a nonviolent way. And I’m just so happy that the people of Tybee have embraced what has happened, and what has been done. We tell the story, and the stories should never end; we shall never forget from whence we came.”

Edna Jackson says, “The reason it is important is because you never want this to happen, and it almost happened with Orange Crush this yearthat is a public beach, and as long as it is a public beach, anybody can go out therebut if you break the law, that is a different story, but they cannot stop you from coming.”

“In the city of Savannah, young people, unfortunately at times, don’t want to hear the history, and that’s bad because if you don’t know from where you came from, you don’t know where you are going,” says Jackson. “As long as you have a few people that are still able to tell the storiesa lot of the history is not in books and has not been written.”

What Jackson wants young people to know, “You have your freedom because back during the wade-in, you didn’t have your freedom. Freedom was fought for in this community. It is because of people that have gone on, or are too old to do too much of anything nowthey are the ones who made those sacrifices in order for young people to be free and to do the things that they are doing, like sitting on the beach and going into any restaurants that they want to.”

Seven-year-old Maya Hardnett is one of the young people who comes to the annual Wade In The Water event at Tybee Island to hear the stories from Representative Edna Jackson, Sistah Patt Gunn, and other elders, “I learn about my ancestors. They came from Africa and were stolen. We honor them and celebrate them,” says Maya. “I like to walk in the water and dance to the drums and songs.”

Erika Hardnett says, “Taking Maya to the Wade in the Water event at Tybee Island is very special to me. It's a chance for her to connect with the very waters that surrounded the footsteps of our ancestors. I want her to understand the stories, be moved by the dances, and let the songs and the heartbeat of the drums speak to her soul, just as they did for our ancestors. Every time I'm there, there is an energy in the air that's hard to describea blend of love, peace, and honor.”

click to enlarge Get To Da’ Wata’
Sistah Patt Gunn with Saltwata Players

Sistah Patt Gunn from Underground Tours, in traditional Gullah Geechee dialect, says of the Juneteenth Wade In The Water, “People need to get to da’ wata’, it is a celebration of Tybee’s history of what has happened. Some things are celebrations and some are commemorativeand this one is a celebration because people are actually coming down to da’ wata’ for the purpose of healing. It is spiritual.”

Gunn says, “Oftentimes when I ask local people if they go to the beach, they say ‘I’m too busy’.”

“Wade In The Water is an opportunity for folks from all over the world, as well as the locals, to come on out and get in da’ wata’ and wade in it because it is healing,” encourages Sistah Patt Gunn.

“The spirituality of the Gullah Geechee community is to always find water if you can find water, you can get to that water and say your prayers; you can ask for blessings and ask for forgiveness,” explains Gunn.

click to enlarge Get To Da’ Wata’
Marcela Sinnett Irula with Samba Drummers

Gunn encourages all people to come to da’ wata’, all people, all generations. “We pay homage to the civil rights workers who worked to desegregate Tybee, and now the beach is open for all people to come. We pay homage to the elders because they give us strength and wisdom. We will be celebrating, remembering, and getting some healing. This is a day where you come to da’ wata’ and cast it out there for forgiveness.”

The 11th Annual Wade-In is part of the Tybee MLK Human Rights Organization Juneteenth Celebrations and will feature the Saltwata Players and Samba Drummers. Attendees will hear from master storytellers, drummers, and freedom shouters—and of course, wade in da’ wata’.

All are welcome to join.

When to go: Wednesday, June 19, 9-11 a.m.
Where to go: Pier 16 Street, Tybee Island

Kristy Edenfield

Freelance Correspondent
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