Friday, July 01, 2011

Celebrating Democracy and Preserving Florida Forever With St. Augustine National Historical Park and Seashore

Our 235-year old American Revolution is still inspiring positive change throughout this frail planet. Liberty, equality and respect for privacy are universal values around the globe.

In 1776, residents of St. Augustine, then a British colony, burned the Declaration of Independence, along with effigies of John Adams and John Hancock. It gets better.

In 1963-64, segregationist- terrorized African-Americans asking for equal rights. Those segregationists who terrorized African-Americans here were aided and abetted by the Florida Legislature’s unjust segregation laws and by KKK-dominated local law enforcement and state court judiciary. It gets better.

When Barack Obama was elected President, the only newspaper in the Western world that did not run the story on its front page was the St. Augustine Record. For decades, the St. Augustine Record newspaper was an engine of the segregationists’ oppression of African-Americans – unlike other, repentant segregationist newspapers, the St. Augustine Record has never apologized. It gets better.

During 2005-2008, City officials dumped 40,000 cubic yards of solid waste into our Old City Reservoir, and then tried to bring it back to Lincolnville, where it was dumped in the first place. It gets better.

Today, under dynamic new leadership – City Manager John Regan -- our Nation’s Oldest City is finally respecting human rights. Long-neglected by racists in City government, Lincolnville’s Riberia Street is being fixed – all of it. African-American communities are finally being treated with respect by our City and County leaders. West Augustine will soon finally have sewers and potable water, thanks to City and County cooperation, after years of neglect by both City and County administrations that were unenlightened.

Our City has authorized three monuments to African-Americans. The Civil Rights Foot Soldiers Monument and the Andrew Young Crossing Monument are already in place. Soon there will be a statue honoring Haitian General Georges Biassou, who lived here in St. Augustine, and helped lead the 1791 Haitian slave uprising, which pointed the way to ending slavery (while making France fear further slave rebellions, enabling President Thomas Jefferson to acquire the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon Bonaparte) . We now have a City Manager and City Commission who respect equality and diversity.

Vive la difference!

We face economic crises. There are more than 9100 people unemployed in St. Johns County, with more than 1200 homeless. We must grow our tourist economy, on a sustainable basis. Our history and nature are in peril and must be protected.

The answer to our problems – and our prayers – is the St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore, with a National Civil Rights Museum and Indigenous Native American Cultural Center.

We have so many layers of history here, from so many centuries. As Mayor Joseph Boles said at the Footsoldiers’ dedication May 14th, “no more will we be afraid to tell our City's story lest we lessen our reputation. The truth is always the best story.”

Harry Truman said, “the only thing new under the sun is the history you don’t know.” This was certainly true about General Biassou (whose existence was not widely known before Monday’s Commission meeting). And it turns out that a St. Augustine National Historical Park and Seashore was first proposed seventy-two (72) years ago this week, in 1939, by United States Senators Claude Pepper and Charles Andrews and U.S. Rep. Joseph Hendricks, with support of St. Augustine’s then-Mayor Walter Fraser. Local hate websites mock the proposal. For years, the St. Augustine Record has never written a news story about it, and refuses to take an editorial position in favor of it.

Clean Air.
Clean Water.
That’s why people come to Florida.
For weeks, our air was filthy with forest fires. Hundreds of thousands of acres are burning.
Our water is threatened by development – crass, coarse development – ticky-tack development.
Our children don’t know very much about American history. Less than 2% of high school seniors know about Brown v. Board of Education.
The answer to our environmental problems -- and our student's history gap knowledge problem -- is the St. Augustine National Historical Park, National Seashore, Scenic Coastal Parkway, with a National Civil Rights Museum and Native American Indian Indigenous Cultural Center.
“Let us not perish as fools,” as Andrew Young said.
Let us not run out of clean air, clean water and informed citizens.
It’s time for Congress to adopt the St. Augustine National Historical Park, National Seashore, Scenic Coastal Parkway Act of 2011.
This Park legislation is urgently needed now, to preserve and to protect our endangered history, nature and wildlife. Thus, the long-overdue National Park and Seashore proposal for our Ancient City must be placed on the agenda for the first meeting of the federal St. Augustine 450th Commemoration Commission, which meets here July 18th. The Park proposal includes tens of thousands of acres of state parks and water management district land, along with carbon-neutral, battery-powered trolleys and an I-95 interchange for West Augustine and Lincolnville, remedying past discrimination.

As former Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham (a member of the 450th Commission) eloquently writes in his book, America: The Owner’s Manual – Making Government Work For You (2010), citizens have a right to be heard and heeded. That is what America’s Founders intended.

It is right and just that action on the St. Augustine National Historical Park and Seashore be “fast tracked,” in Capitol Hill argot. At last our St. Augustine history and nature must be protected, and not neglected by our federal government. Oscar® and Nobel Prize winner Albert Gore, Jr. has rightly compared Americans to a dysfunctional family in dealing with environmental issues, quoting Sir Winston Spencer Churchill, who said:

The Government simply cannot make up their minds, or they cannot get the Prime Minister to make up his mind. So they go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent.... The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.

[Winston Churchill before the House of Commons, November 12, 1936 regarding appeasement of Nazis, quoted in Albert Gore, Jr., Earth in the Balance (1992) at 196 in context of desuetude and indecision in U.S. environmental policy.]

After the kickoff of the 450th celebration in 2009, Williamsburg, Virginia Mayor Jeanne Zeidler (who ran the Jamestown celebration) stated that “of course” she would support a National Historical Park for St. Augustine. One of Mayor Joe Boles’ favorite quotes (and mine) is from the architect Daniel Burnham, who designed Union Station in Washington, D.C.:

Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big.

Daniel Burnham, Chicago architect. (1864-1912)

National Park Service Regional Director David Vela asked our City officials May 24, 2011, “what do you want for your birthday?” We want a National Park and Seashore – our National Parks are “America’s best idea” I reckon that seventy-two (72) years is long enough to wait.

America’s best years – and St. Augustine’s – lie ahead of us.

We’ll see you at the 450th Commission meeting at Flagler College Auditorium on July 18, 2011 – doors open at 9:30 AM. The Commission meeting starts at 10 AM.

Meanwhile, happy Independence Day!

Ed Slavin (B.S., Foreign Service, Georgetown University, J.D. Memphis State University, now the University of Memphis) is a St. Augustine civic activist who has lived in St. Augustine since before the turn of the century (November 5, 1999).

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