Tuesday, January 01, 2019
DAVID NOLAN: 10 WHO MAKE A DIFFERENCE: Called a ‘national treasure,’ David Nolan helped shine a light on city’s black history. (SAR)
From St. Augustine Record re: our heroic local historian of St. Augustine Movement civil rights and African-American history, DAVID NOLAN:
10 WHO MAKE A DIFFERENCE: Called a ‘national treasure,’ David Nolan helped shine a light on city’s black history
By Margo C. Pope / Record correspondent
Posted Dec 30, 2018 at 9:24 PM
Updated Dec 30, 2018 at 9:24 PM
In the not-so-distant past, a significant part of the St. Augustine’s history was hidden away, its black history.
That started to change in the late 1970s, when the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board secured a federal CETA (Comprehensive Employment Training Act) grant to develop a survey of buildings in the city more than 50 years old.
David Nolan, now 72, a writer by profession with a lifelong passion for history and an appreciation of the 1960s civil rights movement from his college days, was among a group of residents hired to conduct the survey.
“It was the perfect job for me,” he said in a recent interview. “For two years (1977 and 1978), I got to study buildings within the city limits over 50 years old. I learned a lot from Dr. Bill Adams, the Preservation Board’s executive director, and Bob Steinbach, the board’s archaeologist.
“Dr. Adams gave me ‘Historic Preservation 101’ and Bob taught me about archaeology.”
The outcome of the project was documentation of 2,500 buildings in St. Augustine. It constitutes the city’s Master Site File, the “bible of the city’s records of it historic buildings.
Nolan’s personal takeaway was to help preserve and protect the city’s African-American history over 450 years. That commitment is one of the reasons he has been selected for The Record’s 10 Who Make a Difference for 2018.
Nolan’s survey work led him through Lincolnville, St. Augustine’s historically African-American neighborhood, south of downtown. On his walks to document buildings from street level, he met Postman Henry Twine, later the city’s vice mayor and City Commissioner; Lorenzo Laws, who was selling insurance, and Doug Carn, a St. Augustine native and internationally known jazz musician. Lincolnville came alive for Nolan through those new friends, and those alliances began his quest to spread the word.
How long have you been in our community?: 41 years.
Family information: Wife, Dr. Darien Andreu, longtime English professor at Flagler College. Daughter, Sudie Nolan-Cassimatis, Atlanta; Son, Hamilton Nolan, New York
Occupation, community involvement: Historian and author – lifelong!
Glenn Hastings crossed paths with Nolan frequently while he served as executive director of St. Johns County’s Tourist Development Council and the Visitor and Convention Bureau (1996-2016). “He was a resource when we brought travel writers from throughout the country to St. Johns County for familiarization tours,” he said. “David would join them and talk to them about African-American history, giving them the backstory,” he said. “Other times, he talked to them about the overall history.”
“David was the one who opened up Lincolnville (to visitors),” Hastings said. “He did this when he originated his train tours of Lincolnville.” Today, tour trains regularly take visitors into Lincolnville.
Nolan championed the civil rights movement’s history in St. Augustine, especially of the 1960s. He advocated for civil rights sites to have historic markers. Some sites were marked in the 1990s through an educator’s initiative after hearing his advocacy for greater visibility.
Nolan’s call to save the civil rights sites reached an apex when the Monson Motor Lodge was demolished in the early 2000s. “The Monson was the only place in Florida where Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested (June 1964),” he said. “The motel in Memphis, where Dr. King was assassinated, is now a national civil rights museum. We lost our chance to have that with the demolition of the Monson.”
The next year, “the Ponce de Leon Motor Lodge, another major civil rights landmark, was demolished, as well as the Twine Street home of Hank Thomas, one of the original Freedom Riders,” he continued. “It looked as if civil rights landmarks were being gleefully demolished one by one — instead of getting the preservation they deserved.”
Nolan persisted. “We were often told that these places were of ‘no historic significance.’ So, we thought if we put historic markers on important civil rights sites it might slow down the bulldozers.”
ACCORD Inc.’s results
After the ACCORD Freedom Trail was completed, the demolitions did stop, Nolan said, suggesting a connection between the two.
Gwendolyn Duncan is president emeritus of ACCORD Inc., which stands for the “Anniversary to Commemorate the Civil Rights Demonstrations Inc.” ACCORD operates the state’s only civil rights museum in the former dental office of Dr. Robert Hayling, known as the “Father of the Civil Rights Movement in St. Augustine.” The museum is located at 79 Bridge St.
Duncan met Nolan more than 20 years ago through Kat Twine, one of the city’s 1960s civil rights freedom fighters. “She once told me that David knew more about black people than black people knew about themselves,” Duncan said.
Through ACCORD, Northrup Grumman provided funding for 30 markers on some of the city’s civil rights sites. “David did all the research; writing all the narratives for the ‘ACCORD Freedom Trail presented by the Northrop Grumman Corporation,’” Duncan said. “David Nolan is a national treasure. He also gives of his time, talents, and finances to help in our preservation efforts.”
Duncan said students have come from the United States Military Academy as well as England, Germany, and more recently Iran, to visit the museum to learn more about St. Augustine’s role in the movement.
The Freedom Trail has been written about in publications in Europe, Australia and Asia, Nolan said.
Nolan believes in the power of citizen community initiatives. Some of his examples are:
• The Junior Service League of St. Augustine restoration of the Lightkeepers’ House on Anastasia Island and the St. Augustine Light Station: “The JSL was the right group in the right place at the right time in the 1980s. In those days, ‘Victorian Garbage’ was a popular expression in St. Augustine,” Nolan explained. “I remember people arguing that we ought to tear down ugly Victorian buildings and put up fake colonial ones in their place. This seemed, to them, the proper definition of ‘historic preservation.’ The JSL took an outstanding Victorian building that had been reduced to four walls and charred beams and porches and returned it to a beloved landmark of the community, by years and years of hard work. After that success, “you heard less and less about ‘Victorian Garbage’ — to the long-term benefit of the Ancient City.”
• Fort Mose Historical Society: “Leading civil rights activists recognized the importance of black history here; Dr. Robert Hayling, Henry Twine and others worked for years to get recognition for Fort Mose. They recognized that it was part of a long, long struggle to improve the condition of black people on these shores,” Nolan said.
Fort Mose is a National Historic Landmark with a museum built and opened to the public (“though still very minimal compared to our other forts”): “Dedicated volunteers like Lorenzo Laws, Michael Bryant, Thomas Jackson, Errol Jones, Otis Mason, Charles Ellis, Hank and Viola White, Ruth Motley and others have been truly astounding and inspirational,” Nolan said. “I will also always be grateful to the late Jack Williams for preserving the property before the state took any interest in it (‘and then was rather shabbily treated when they did...’).”
• ACCORD Inc.’s opening of the civil rights museum: “They have also gathered and preserved rich documentation (for which the researchers of the future will sing their praises) of St. Augustine’s great encounter with modern history,” Nolan said. “I cannot give enough praise to Gwendolyn Duncan and other ACCORD activists (including the late Carrie Johnson and Shirley Williams Collins) for years of dedicated work.”
• “St. Augustinians both old and new have played important roles in promoting appreciation of our past,” Nolan said. “Mrs. Barbara Vickers led the seven-year effort to place the artistic monument in the Plaza to the Foot Soldiers of the civil rights movement, A native of St. Augustine, now 95 years old, she is an inspiration!”
“Among newer residents, Dr. Dorothy Israel, 94, retired college professor from New York, was the major force in producing the first brochure on our African-American history (and she has more recently produced a brochure on Lincolnville, which is one of the few things you can get on our rich Black heritage at our Visitors Center).”
Nolan has loved history to the point that in 1958, he “demanded” his mother, Virginia Tappin Nolan, take him to the centennial commemoration of the birth of President Theodore Roosevelt. Many Roosevelt descendants attended. “It was one of my first favorite historic buildings,” he said of Sagamore Hill on Oyster Bay, New York.
As an adult, he said he used to “drag” his children to to the Barre (Massachusetts) Historical Society headquarters, the former home of his great-grandfather, Judge John L. Smith (1859-1957). As a youth, Nolan visited Judge Smith with his family.
Nolan’s mentors begin with his father, the late Joseph Nolan, a former New York Times writer and United Press International correspondent, a leader of the modern corporate public relations movement and a college professor. “Dad will always be my original model for hard work and diligence and honesty — and writing and speaking. I learned by observing a master!”
High school teacher Henry Addis (in Bayside, New York) inspired him so much that he tracked him down years ago. “I was glad to have the chance, almost half a century later to let him know that,” Nolan said. “After he died, his daughter wrote a letter to me that was so nice that it is one of the things I will risk my life to save from a fire, should the need ever arise!”
At the University of Virginia, the legendary Paul Gaston (about to turn 91 now), was his mentor. “He managed in lectures to bring history alive and modeled, through his own participation in civil rights activities, the good citizenship that we should hope from all historians.”
Nolan hopes that his legacy will be that helped save history; “all the important parts of our past and not just those that immediately contribute to a tourist economy. I hope that over the years, through books. tours and lectures I have made a contribution to the understanding of that.”
“I have told my wife and children that, when the time comes, I’d like to have my ashes scattered around all of our historic buildings. Then sometime in the future when someone proposes to demolish one of them, they can say: “You can’t tear that down. David Nolan is buried there.” Let’s throw a monkey wrench in the works!”