Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Time for St. Augustine National Historical Park, Seashore, Civil Rights Museum and Scenic Coastal Parkway

Wallace Stegner called America’s National Parks our “best idea.” For our City of St. Augustine’s 450th birthday, let’s ask Congress and the federal St. Augustine 450th Celebration Commission for an “emerald necklace of parks” -- St. Augustine National Historical Park, Seashore and Scenic Coastal Parkway, with a National Civil Rights Museum and Museum of Indigenous Native American Indian peoples. www.
The land is already ours, in the form of current federal, state and water management district land – let’s preserve and protect it forever inviolate – more than 130,000 acres of land, in one National Park and Seashore, connected with trails and battery-powered trolleys.
Take the Castillo, Fort Matanzas, add water (county beaches, including the beach where civil rights wade-ins and arrests occurred -- yes even the ocean was segregated, under Florida's unjust Jim Crow laws). Add state parks, forests and water management district land in two counties and what do you have? More than 130,000 acres for a St. Augustine National Historical Park and Seashore that will capture the imagination, reconnect us with our history and nature, preserve wetlands and prevent erosion, while preserving endangered and threatened species, including turtles, beach mice, bald eagles and right whales (there are only 350 left, and this is their winter calving grounds, where they give birth to baby whales).
Prior attempts at tourism “branding” by local agencies lacked insight/foresight, ignoring environmental tourism and African-American and Civil Rights history.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act was adopted because President Lyndon Johnson broke a Senate filibuster, the first-time ever for a civil rights bill, which passed because of what happened here in St. Augustine. Dr. Robert Hayling, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rev. Andrew Young, rabbis , local residents and students responded with non-violence and love to the hateful brick-throwers who supported state laws requiring Jim Crow segregation (as Saint Augustine himself said, “an unjust law is no law at all.”)
Our 450th birthday present requires healing. As Mayor Joseph Boles eloquently said at the dedication of the Civil Rights Foot Soldiers Monument:
Today, May 14th, will forever stand as the day we say no more will we let ignorance rule the day. No more will hatred hold sway. No more will we stand silent when our brothers and sisters cried out for justice and no more will we be afraid to tell our City's story lest we lessen our reputation. The truth is always the best story.
This City along with our entire country allowed a set of rules to exist that victimized and stigmatized many people we all knew and cared for, but fear held many at bay. In this, the freest country in the world, and in St. Augustine, this Nation's Oldest City, freedom would not be denied.
A 2003 National Trust for Historic Preservation study found environmental and historic tourists spent more money – good to grow our tourist-driven economy. They and their children also learned more.
Our 450th birthday is a “teachable moment:” the National Park Service will share and interpret St. Augustine’s 11,000 years of history, including indigenous (Native-American), African-American, Spanish, French, Minorcan, Greek, Cuban, Haitian, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, British, American, Civil War, military, nautical, Flagler-era and Civil Rights history and Northeast Florida’s contribution to the economic, social, and environmental history of the United States.
Finally, we need an I-95 interchange for West Augustine and West King Street – call it the “here we right a wrong” interchange, remedying 1960s discrimination.
We are all blessed to live here in St. Augustine. Let’s preserve and protect her for your grandchildren (and their grandchildren), who will say “thank you” for the 450th birthday present – parks, preservation and teaching peaceful ways.

Ed Slavin, B.S., Foreign Service, Georgetown University, J.D. Memphis State University (now University of Memphis), CIO, Global Wrap® LLC, has lived in St. Augustine since 1999; he proposed the park at a City Commission meeting on November 13, 2006.

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