Proud to live in St. Augustine, Florida where some of our courageous friends and neighbors were civil rights foot soldiers who marched with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964, helping expose Jim Crow segregation, helping President Lyndon Johnson break the segregationist filibuster in the United States Senate and enact the 1964 Civil Rights Act. As LBJ said to Congress after Selma, "We SHALL overcome!"
54 years ago tonight, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in the St. Johns County Jail, arrested for asking for service at the Monson Restaurant (since demolished over objections of historians and historic preservationists, the Monson is the site of controversial developer KANTI PATEL's Bayfront Hilton).
To this day, our other-directed political boss, corrupt St. Johns County Sheriff, DAVID SHOAR, is violating civil rights, as demonstrated by his coverups of the shootings of Michelle O'Connell and Andrea Sheldon.
St. Johns County Sheriff DAVID SHOAR, who changed his name from HOAR in 1994, has a website that chauvinistically defends the late evil St. Johns County Sheriff L.O. Davis with three material falsehoods, falsely claiming Dr. King was arrested here by federal agents, that LO. Davis held the town together, and that Davis was vindicated by the Florida State Senate, which voted 44-2 to remove him for corruption in 1970.
In jail, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote a letter to Rabbi Israel "Sy" Dressner, who brought sixteen rabbis and an administrator here, resulting in the largest mass arrest of rabbis in American history only one week later, on June 18, 1964. Six of the surviving rabbis visited in 2014, and I was honored to have lunch with Rabbi Dressner and Rabbi Alan Secher at a lunch in the church basement at St. Paul A.M.E. Church on the anniversary date -- we were served a modified version of Dr. King's favorite meal, suitable for rabbis, prepared by Ms. Cora Tyson, one of the ladies who cooked for Dr. King and made his daily pitchers of iced tea while he was in St. Augustine.
As a result of the courage of thousands of civil rights foot soldiers, Dr. King, Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, Rev. Andrew Jackson Young, Jr. (later our UN Ambassador), and legal work by William Kuntsler, et al., St. Augustine was in international headlines, helping President Lyndon Johnson break the Senate filibuster, signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act== into law on July 2, 1964. Dr. King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, after which both Sheriff L.O. Davis and Police Chief Virgil Stuart insulted Dr. King, calling him and his supporters "outside agitators."
In 2005, corrupt St. Augustine City Manager WILLIAM BARRY HARRISS tried to block a civil rights monument, falsely telling Commissioners that only Spanish colonial history could be commemorated in the Plaza de la Constitucion (Slave Market Square), where there have long been monuments to the Confederate and other war veterans. Commissioners voted to allow the civil rights monument, but required proponents to raise the money.
In 2011, mutatis mutandis, mirabile dictu, we band of brothers and sisters in St. Augustine proudly dedicated two (2) civil rights monuments in our Slave Market Square, one to Andrew Young (paid for by the City) and one to the civil rights foot soldiers (privately funded but the City erected a base).
In 2017, there there were demands to remove two Confederate cenotaphs in our historic area. I opposed them. Having been a civil rights advocate most of my life, I would not be silent as malice and anger were preached at St. Paul A.M.E., and putative ministers of the gospel, white and black, competed in dueling dueling ideologies -- "TAKE 'EM DOWN" (black racist Rev. Ronald Rawls) vs. "Don't Change A Thing" (white racist preacher Douglas Russo).
In our small town, scene of so much history, I found myself standing between hope and history, squarely in the middle of these two camps, with friends on both "sides," as they declared themselves.
My liberal friends were shocked them I did not join them in they animadversions.
My Tea Party friends were puzzled, wondering why I agreed with them.
I am a thinking liberal. My first boss was Senator Ted Kennedy, for whom I went to work as an intern/staff assistant at age 17.5, as a freshman and sophomore. I worked for Senators Gary W. Hart (D-Colo.) and Jim Sasser (D-Tenn.), was editor of a crusading weekly newspaper, the Appalachian Observer, in Clinton, Tenn, and went on to clerk for the Chief Judge of the U.S. Department of Labor (Nahum Litt) and serve as Legal Counsel for Constitutional Rights at the Government Accountability Project, defending whistleblowers there and in private practice until I was disbarred after zealous advocacy.
Everything that I learned from parents, priests, teachers, judges, lawyers and clients influenced my opinion. We did not want to be another Charlottesville. We did not want to act out of fear or ignorance (or fear of ignorance).
We needed to listen to everyone and vindicate everyone's vision -- preserving the past and telling the truth about it.
In the words of Robert F. Kennedy's Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Burke Marshall, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall catch hell from both sides."
We came to appreciate how RFK civl rights attorney John Doar felt when he stood between angry police and angry African-Americans in Birmingham, preventing violence:
I came to appreciate how my boyhood hero, RFK, felt the night of April 4, 1968 after Dr. King was murdered in Memphis; RFK spoke in Indianapolis, preventing violence:
My advice to both the St. Augustine City Commission and to the University of Florida was to leave the two memorials or monuments unharmed, but to add others, including one for KKK-infiltarting civil rights hero Stetson Kennedy and St. Augustine Movement leaders Dr. Robert S. Hayling, D.D.S. and Barbara Vickers, and add context and interpretation to promote healing.
I am proud of the City and UF. I don't always agree with them, but on this occasion, they've done the right thing. Both the City Commission and UF St. Augustine votes were unanimous. Unanimous votes for common sense and healing to continue here.
Now, a biracial committee like the one African-Americans unsuccessfully requested 55 years ago is diligently contextualizing one memorial to Confederate veterans, while the University of Florida will soon do the same for another, to General William Wing Loring.
Soon St. Augustine will be the first American city to contextualize Confederate memorials or monuments, rather than removing, destroying or ignoring them.
How cool is that?
We're working. on heeling here.
As JFK said, "Here on Earth, God's work must truly be our own."
Remember the past:
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Was Arrested in St. Augustine, Florida For Violating "Jim Crow" Segregation Laws -- TRANSCRIPT of Arrest by SAPD Chief Virgil Stuart
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rev. Ralph David Abernathy in St. Johns County Jail
(Dr. King said "it was the nicest jail I've ever been in.")
By David Nolan (St. Augustine's noted civil rights historian)
St. Augustine was the only place in Florida where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested during the civil rights movement.
It happened on June 11, 1964 on the steps of the Monson Motor Lodge restaurant on the Bayfront.
Here is the conversation that took place between Dr. King and James Brock, the manager of the Monson:
KING: I and my friends have come to lunch.
BROCK: We can’t serve you. We are not integrated.
KING: We’ll wait around. We feel you should serve us.
BROCK: You are on private property. We reserve the right to refuse service. I ask you on behalf of myself, my wife, and my children to leave.
KING: We are sorry you have that attitude. You are doing a disservice to the nation.
BROCK: You can’t push this thing. We are a small business. We are caught in the middle of something. We find ourselves between two armed camps. If we integrate now it would hurt our business.
KING: We will stand here and hope that in the process that our conscious efforts will make this a better land.
BROCK: We will integrate under one of two conditions: by federal court order, or if a responsible group of citizens ask us to open to all customers.
KING: We are glad to know that you would do it under those conditions.
DR. RALPH ABERNATHY: Does your invitation to serve tourists include Negroes?
BROCK: Negroes can only be served in the service area of the restaurant. Maids and chauffeurs of white visitors have been served that way in the past.
KING: Can’t you see how this humiliates us?
BROCK: Will you please take your nonviolent army somewhere else? I must remind you that I have already had 85 people arrested before at my place.
[At this point Police Chief Virgil Stuart arrived]
BROCK to STUART: I’m glad you are here. I have asked Dr. King to leave twice, but he has refused.
STUART to KING’S party: You are all under arrest.
STUART later testified that it was only "outside agitators" who raised Civil Rights concerns, and Dr. King won the Nobel Peace Prize that year
Here's how The New York Times covered the story of Dr. King's arrest here in 1964: