When blacks were refused the right to swim on most Mississippi beaches, Gulfside Assembly became a mecca. On its waterfront in Waveland, children and adults of color could safely swim, fish and crab.
   Gulfside, created by black Methodists in 1924, was one of the few places in the segregated South where blacks could do this. Although civil rights has opened beaches, Gulfside continues as "A Mecca on the Gulf." It is a 60-acre retreat where visitors - black and white - participate in programs of education, spiritual nurturing and family support.
   The waterfront grounds were covered with moss-draped oaks, a half-dozen buildings and woods. The fishing pier had disappeared, erosion ate the beach and storms and fire claimed significant buildings, including the chapel.
   But in 2001 the staff at Gulfside United Methodist Assembly - that's its full name - created a 10-year plan for construction, multicultural and spiritual programs, and fundraisers. It continued as a popular site for retreats and such programs as Elder Hostels.
   "This is a place for all God's people," Marian Martin, executive director, said when the plan was launched. "God intends for it to be here for generations to come."
   Then came Katrina. All the buildings are leveled and Martin is temporarily in Atlanta.
   The United Methodist Church's Southeast Jurisdiction, which owns the land, is aware of Gulfside's historic significance.
   The broader Methodist church history includes merging of Methodist Episcopalians (both North and South) and Methodist Protestants in 1939 to form United Methodists. Blacks were in a separate jurisdiction, a segregation that changed in 1968 - although Gulfside's important role for blacks continued.
   "Gulfside is a centerpiece for the traditionally black church and there is a lot of sentimental attachment to the grounds," said the Rev. Jerry Beam, district superintendent of Seashore United Methodist District.
   "I know the Southeast Jurisdiction is meeting about Gulfside's future role."