Tuesday, May 17, 2011

IN HAEC VERBA: Historian David Nolan re: St. Augustine, Florida Civil Rights Foot Soldiers

Excerpts from The Heroic Story of the St. Augustine Foot Soldiers, a pamphlet prepared by St. Augustine Historian David Nolan for the dedication of the St. Augustine Foot Soldiers monument.

In the summer of 1963 picketing began at local businesses that practiced segregation.

The Ku Klux Klan began holding rallies in St. Augustine, and when Dr. Hayling, James Jackson, Clyde Jenkins and James Hauser went to see one from the highway near the modern-day Big Lots shopping center, they were captured, brutally beaten - and then charged with assault!

Homes were shot up, cars set on fire, people were beaten, jobs were lost, jail sentences handed out and threats made--all in an effort to crush the civil rights movement.

The police acquired new tools like cattle prods, and "civic groups" purchased police dogs for them, which were trained at the Galimore Center grounds in Lincolnville, and stationed in the lobby of what is now the Casa Monica Hotel when civil rights marches took place.Arrest of Dr. Robert Hayling

Finally, in early 1964 local civil rights activists approached Martin Luther King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) about coming to St. Augustine to help.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was then being subjected to the longest filibuster in history, and to bring the talk-a-thon to an end it was necessary to show the American people why such a law was needed. Part of it dealt with segregated hotels, motels, and restaurants - and St. Augustine had nothing but.

It was decided to launch a project for Easter 1964. Dr. Hayling sent an appeal to college students to come to St. Augustine for Spring Break - not to go to the beach, but to take part in sit-ins and demonstrations.

As the Civil Rights Act was being debated in Washington, the American people were reading in their newspapers and seeing on the nightly news the history-making events taking place on the streets of St. Augustine.

Many of the dramatic episodes and images of the civil rights movement took place with familiar St. Augustine landmarks in the background: the beaches, the Slave Market, the Monson Motel, the Castillo de San Marcos, the Visitors Center, Trinity Episcopal Church and others.

Dramatic events like the beach wade-ins, night marches, pray-ins at the churches, the largest mass arrest of rabbis in American history, the pouring of acid in the Monson pool while civil rights supporters were swimming there, became part of American history.

The courage of the Foot Soldiers of the civil rights movement here helped to change America and inspire the world.

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