Monday, June 26, 2017


Like the ghosts of Mississippi, the ghosts of St. Augustine are with us still -- cheers to the ladies who organized an historic re-enactment on June 25, 2017 of our civil rights wade-ins of 1964, without the bloodshed caused by terrorists -- KKK members allied with gun clubs and local law enforcement, then mainly KKK members.

Posted June 26, 2017 05:18 am
By Colleen Michele Jones
Wade-in commemoration marks St. Augustine’s role in Civil Rights Movement

Instead of shoves there were hugs, prayers for peace rather than racial epithets.

Nearly 50 people stood in solidarity Sunday on the shoreline of St. Augustine Beach to commemorate the historic wade-in that took place 53 years earlier on the same date. The gathering, organized by the Women’s March of St. Augustine, painted a stark contrast to the original event, during which segregationists clashed with blacks trying to enter the ocean at what was still considered a “whites-only” beach.

The wade-in on June 25, 1964, was the culmination of more than a week of such demonstrations near the pier at St. Augustine Beach, but was easily the most violent. As white swimmers baited blacks into the water, they attacked them, nearly drowning several people. Police officers stormed the ocean, wielding batons and trying to defuse the confrontation. Dozens were arrested.

The wade-in in St. Augustine served as a turning point in the civil rights movement, drawing national attention to the issue of segregation. Just seven days later, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.



But organizers behind Sunday’s remembrance said the country still has a long ways to go to achieve racial equality.

“There’s still an ocean of injustice out there and we have to be brave enough to wade into it,” said Melissa Hawthorne, who as the head of the Gainesville chapter of the Women’s March organization came to show support at the St. Augustine event.

Mary Cobb, leader of the Women’s March in St. Augustine, said the chapter was created soon after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Highlighting the city’s past as a battleground for civil rights seemed like a natural thing to do.

“If you don’t talk about the dark chapters in history, it’s hard to move forward,” Cobb said.

At the commemoration, Cobb and other female leaders took turns making speeches on a megaphone at the waterfront, drawing a crowd of curious beach onlookers, as well as the 50 or so people who turned out for the event. The group walked toward the water, where they formed a prayer circle and hugged one another.

The 1964 wade-in capped a monthlong encampment of Martin Luther King Jr. and his supporters in St. Augustine, where racial tensions burned as hot as the Florida sun. There were daily conflicts across the city as African-Americans took part in a number of nonviolent demonstrations, such as attempting to eat at a fancy waterfront restaurant, an act that landed King in jail. Black protesters also highlighted the segregation of Florida’s segregated pools and beaches.

“In a Southern town at that time, people knew where the boundaries were,” said Charles Tingley, senior research librarian at the St. Augustine Historical Society.

Blacks had their own area to swim in which to swim at beach land purchased by local businessman Frank Butler. But civil rights leaders were pushing the envelope, staging a number of “swim-ins” and “wade-ins,” including one at the Monson Motor Lodge’s segregated pool. The motel’s owner responded by dumping acid into the pool in an effort to drive the protesters out.

Historians say the wade-ins marked a pivotal chapter in the civil rights movement.

“This all highlighted to a national and international audience the pervasiveness of segregation in the Old South,” Tingley said.

At Sunday’s commemoration, Hawthorne paid tribute to the civil rights activists of 1964, but added, “We still live in a world where Dr. King’s dream is incomplete.”

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