In support of preserving our nature and history, I spoke to our St. Johns County Legislative Delegation October 1, 2021.
Here is my written prepared statement for the record:
- StAugustGreenTM supports the creation of a St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore.
- Our National Parks are truly “America's Best Idea,” as Ken Burns' acclaimed PBS series established, quoting Wallace Stegner. With your help, we can and will help preserve, protect and expand our National Parks, which help create more than 6.5 million American jobs.
- In 1939, the St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore Act was introduced during the76th Congress, supported by then-Mayor Walter Fraser, introduced by then-Representative Joseph Hendricks and then-Senators Charles Andrews and Claude Pepper to conserve this wonderfully unique place. That was more than 81 years ago.
- What exactly are we waiting for? St. Augustine deserves its rightful place. St. Augustine's story is our Nation's story. Diverse people lived, learned from each other and prospered here since 1565. Our Nation's oldest continually-occupied, European-founded City, St. Augustine has a rich history of cultural diversity – America's original melting pot since 1565. Many never learn this in schools, where British-centrism prevails. The story of the United States began in St. Augustine on September 8, 1565: the 800 colonizers included the first Hispanic-Americans, first African-Americans (freed and slave), first Catholics, first Jews and first women from Europe, along with many other firsts in what is now the United States. That was 42 years before Jamestown,Virginia and 55 years before Plymouth, Massachusetts.
- The late University of Florida History Professor Michael Gannon said, “When Jamestown was founded, St. Augustine was already up for urban renewal.”
- Europe’s bloody religious wars were fought here: Spanish, French and English forces fought for hegemony in St. Augustine Northeast Florida. Europeans killed Europeans here, over dogma and which empire would rule. Our Matanzas River (Spanish for “slaughters”) is named for one September 1565 event, where 270 Frenchmen were put to the sword. No monument to their memories exists in Florida. Likewise, the “Columbian Exchange” began here, with Native American and Europeans first interacting, sharing and fighting for dominance. No proper interpretation or monument to this remarkable exchange currently exists.
- St. Augustine is a very special place and deserves protection: it was America's first in so many ways: we had the first Catholic Mass and first Thanksgiving feast (both on September 8, 1565). St. Augustine had America's first town plan (1586), first school, first church, first weddings, first baptisms, first hospital, first forts, first public square, first public market, first paved streets, first park, first system of weights and measures, first cattle, first horses, first pigs, first government with written records, first army and navy, first recorded marriages (including African-Americans), first freed slave communities, first African-American soldiers/sailors, first African-American general and first government anti-Gay hate crime (on Governor's orders in 1566).
- St. Augustine residents' courageous activism and litigation produced landmark Congressional and federal court Civil Rights and First Amendment victories (including the 1964 Civil Rights Act and a series of landmark 1963-71 federal court public accommodations and school desegregation orders, a series of orders vindicating the rights of artists and entertainers (buskers) in St. Augustine's historic area (the latest in 2009 and one expected soon), and a 2005 court order for Rainbow flags on historic Bridge of Lions in honor of GLBT history, including the Governor's ordering the 1566 murder of a Gay French translator of the Guale Indian language). While the Spanish Inquisition was here to a small degree, Spanish governors in St. Augustine never burned a single “witch” (unlike Salem, Massachusetts counterparts). St. Augustine was a small garrison town that beat the odds, surviving continuously since 1565, when other European settlements were swiftly abandoned (including the 1607 British settlement of Jamestown). St. Augustine represents the triumph of the human spirit in our first, diverse city.
- The Underground Railroad began in St. Augustine in 1687. Under Spanish rule, St. Augustine grew into America's first shining bulwark of freedom – the first Underground Railroad
ran south to St. Augustine, starting in 1687, as Spain granted freedom to any British slaves who would become Catholics and fight for Spain. Slave revolts resulted in several British colonies upon slaves hearing the news of freedom in St. Augustine, Florida. The British were furious, as their former slaves settled here in 1738 the first freed slave settlement in America, at Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mosé (Fort Mosé). The British attacked St. Augustine in 1740, besieging it for 27 days. Spanish-freed slaves and Spanish soldiers fought off British invaders.
- Hundreds of British indentured servants from the Mediterranean fled to freedom in 1777. During the 20-year British period, Menorcans, Greeks, Corsicans and Italians, who were British “indentured servants” (slaves by contract), fled to St. Augustine from the deadly failed mosquito-infested New Smyrna indigo plantations, “voting with their feet,” walking some 70 miles to freedom in St. Augustine in 1777. Their long walk to freedom deserves a National Historical Park, which can happen with state donation of several current state parks along the route they walked from New Smyrna to St. Augustine in 1777 – this should include wonderful bird and other wildlife observation points in two counties, already state parks. Imagine more than 130,000 acres of NPS protected land, including state parks along this freedom walk.
- St. Augustine survived genocide, wars, arson, slavery, and segregation – and we the Oldest European- founded City in America recently observed our 456th birthday.
not in Virginia in 1607, as often misreported. Jim Crow segregation was ended by what happened here in 1964, through the courage of local residents and visiting supporters -- the “St. Augustine Movement.” This history deserves NPS interpretation.