With coverage on the Florida Channel and a couple of approving head nods from House Speaker Paul Renner and State Senator Travis Hutson, I spoke October 13, 2023 before our St. Johns County Legislative Delegation in support of the St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore legislation.
Here's the draft of my written testimony for the record:
STATEMENT OF STAUGUSTGREENTM,
ST. JOHNS COUNTY LEGISLATIVE DELEGATION ON:
ST. AUGUSTINE NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK AND NATIONAL SEASHORE
October 13, 2023
Thank you Chair, Senator Hutson, Speaker Renner, Representatives Stevenson and Payne:
St. Augustine survived genocide, wars, arson, slavery, segregation, malaria, COVID and other pandemics. Now, plagued by overdevelopment, the Oldest European- founded City in America, just past our 458th birthday, faces the future.
What's our legacy? How do we preserve and protect God’s country from ocean level rise, global warming, excessive traffic and overdevelopment?
Seven times the people of St. Johns County have rejected proposed sales tax increases, as recently as last year. We, the People, have spoken, seven times.
Meanwhile, we have unmet infrastructure needs caused by overdevelopment.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation's 2004 study found that environmental and historic tourists spend twice as much and twice as long.
Our economy is based on tourism, but we offer little to tourists in the way of historic and environmental interpretation.
The answer to our prayers was provided in 1939 by the Mayor of St. Augustine, our Congressman and both U.S. Senators.
- StAugustGreenTM supports the creation of a St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore. See www.staugustgreen.com.
- 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 the 76th 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 84 years ago.
- St. Augustine deserves its rightful place in the pantheon of National Parks. 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.
12. What’s our legacy? St. Augustine survived and outlasted slavery, genocide of Native Americans (the Timucua tribe ceased to exist), Jim Crow segregation, hurricanes and the British, who thrice burned St. Augustine to the ground (1586, 1668 and 1702) and twice besieged it (1702 and 1740). Continental America's oldest masonry fort – Castillo de San Marcos – was started in 1672 in response to British arson and completed in 1695. The Castillo survived two British sieges and cannonballs with its its unique porous coquina shell construction and artisans' nightly masonry work restoring sections blown away by day. Great Britain owned St. Augustine for twenty years under the two Treaties of Paris, with two peaceful transition to British and back to Spanish rule in 1763 and 1784. Likewise, St. Augustine survived the Civil War without a single shot – in 1861, an Army sergeant turned over the Castillo's keys (Fort Marion), obtaining a receipt from the Confederates. On March 11, 1862, Confederates left peaceably when the U.S. Navy (with U.S. Marines) were sighted offshore. The fort was used as a military prison until the Spanish-American War in 1898 – it was a prison for selected American Revolutionary War patriots during the British period, and then for selected Native Americans (Osceola and fellow Seminole warriors; Kiowa; Apaches, including members of Geronimo's band and several of his wives) under the U.S. Army. The U.S. Government's controversial system of Indian boarding schools began right here at the Castillo, and was expanded to dozens of other sites around America. These schools are rightly deserving of NPS interpretation beyond that which was traditionally available at the Castillo.
13. Slavery began in St. Augustine, Florida on September 8, 1565 – 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.
14. In 1964, St. Augustine's 400th anniversary was marred by KKK segregationists, allied with local law enforcement: their fury at peaceful Civil Rights protesters helped President Johnson break the U.S. Senate filibuster against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The “St. Augustine Movement” was led by local African-American dentist Dr. Robert B. Hayling, D.D.S. Dr. Hayling brought Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and baseball hero Jackie Robinson to help the St. Augustine Movement. The “St. Augustine Movement” saw the largest arrest of rabbis in American history, the Monson Motel swim-ins, St. Augustine Beach ocean wade-ins, the beating of Rev. Andrew Young and the arrest of Dr. King and the mother of Massachusetts' Governor Endicott Peabody. This was all daily national news.
15. White House tapes show that in dealing with Southern Senators, President Lyndon Johnson was empowered by the courage of “St. Augustine Movement” as much as by the nightly revolting images and page one headlines of St. Augustine beatings, shootings, muriatic acid poured into the Monson Motel pool, and an iconic photo of a policeman jumping into that pool to arrest J.T. Johnson, Al Lingo, Mamie Ford Jones, Peter Shiras and others for swimming there. After federal court rulings, state law enforcement (Highway Patrol and Fish and Game Commission, supervised by courageous State's Attorney Dan Warren) finally came to defend African-Americans, including those swimming in Atlantic Ocean amid wade-ins. Jim Crow segregation ended because of all that had happened in St. Augustine, Florida.
16. On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Today, women, racial and ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities and Gay and Lesbian people are protected thanks to the courage of the St. Augustine Movement – the 1964 Civil Rights Act was the precedent for human rights laws worldwide. Some of our St. Augustine neighbors who protested in 1964 survive: our elders are sharing their wisdom with future generations and working with Rev. Andrew Young, et. al on several different Civil Rights museums, including the former dental office of Dr. Robert B. Hayling.
17. Rev. Andrew Young said it best back in 1964: “We change history through finding the one thing that can capture the imagination of the world. History moves in leaps and bounds.”
18. In 2014, America and St. Augustine honored the 50th anniversary of our1964 Civil Rights Act. Still no federal NPS civil rights museum presence due to lack of funding, although our City did a good turn with its "Journey" exhibit on 450 years of African-American history. We need the St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore to tell the story of the slaves -- Minorcan and African-American -- whose stories are an integral part of our history.
19. Would this be the first National Seashore with a Civil Rights component? Under Florida laws at the time, the Atlantic Ocean was segregated under Jim Crow segregation. Protest wade-ins at St. Augustine Beach pier were international news. Today, formerly segregated African-American beaches statewide are in need of protection, including Bethune-Volusia Beach (near New Smyrna Beach), Virginia Key (Miami) and Bunche Beach (near Fort Myers). DOI must appreciate the urgency of preserving this history, including potential NPS status and protection and possible sequential referral legislation denying flood insurance to anyone destroying their historic homes? St. Augustine's Native American, Hispanic, Roman Catholic, Jewish, African-American, Minorcan, Greek, Italian and Civil Rights history deserves greater respect from DoI. As Admiral Hyman Rickover once said to President Jimmy Carter (then a recent Naval Academy graduate: “Why not the best?” Why not a public-private partnership to present St. Augustine's diverse history to the world?
20. A possible location for an NPS Visitor Center might be the Sebastian Inner Harbor” project, where boat docks were built years ago for a project that was abandoned, foreclosed on, transmogrified and still moribund, after years of successive developers’ halcyon promises.
21. Imagine a DOI-staffed public-private partnership – a National Civil Rights Museum – bordering on the San Sebastian River, site a currently bankrupt development, symbolizing “waters that run like justice” working waterfront, with shrimp boats (not unlike Tarpon Springs' sponge docks), with artists and entertainers (buskers) as in Key West's Mallory Square, with outdoor restaurants.
22. We treasure our wonderful jewel of a 1672-95 Spanish fort, our Castillo de San Marcos – one of our most-frequently visited but most interpretation-deprived locations in the entire National Park Service. There is also the sister fort of Fort Matanzas. There is also Fort Mosé State Park (underfunded state park sometimes threatened with closure), the site of first free black settlement in 1738). There is also a lone historical marker in St. Augustine Beach for beach wade-ins. There is a Civil Rights Foot Soldiers and an Andrew Young memorial in St. Augustine's Historic Slave Market square, where abolitionist and transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson first observed slave-selling in 1827 (with multitasking by the chair of the Bible Society and a slave auction being conducted in the public market across St. George Street). We are blessed with the Lincolnville Museum and Dr. Hayling’s dental office museum, and a Northrop Grumman sponsored series of historic monuments.
23. Like Atlanta's Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sites, St. Augustine deserves NPS ranger interpretation of African-American and civil Rights history at Fort Mosé, Government House, the “Slave Market” and the churches and homes of Lincolnville and West Augustine (where Civil Rights heroes lived, worked and planned peaceful protests). This will make history come alive, inspiring generations of future Americans to respect equality and the people who struggled to attain it.
24. Now, more than ever, St. Augustine's key role in U.S. and world history deserves greater National Park Service attention. St. Augustine's wonderful natural beauty likewise deserves National Park Service protection.
25. With all this history and beauty, St. Augustine currently has only two (2) relatively small National Park Service installations – Castillo de San Marco National Monument (20.5 acres) and Fort Matanzas National Monument (some 300 acres). That is de minimis if not de micromis.
26. We can do better for future generations.
27. Only NPS has the wisdom, experience and duty to protect cultural and environmental resources rather than destroy, damage or remove them with a whim of iron. Parochial local decisions here about Confederate monuments have sidetracked us from telling the truth about our history. The City of St. Augustine and University of Florida removed historic and cultural resources without adequate involvement of the community and historic preservationists. It appears that the City of St. Augustine may have violated Sunshine laws in abruptly reconsidering the monument to Minorcan Civil War soldiers, at the behest of Jacksonville Mayor Leonard Curry in 2020, as Jacksonville was removing its monuments in order to attract an abruptly rescheduled and failed Republican National Convention.
28. Meanwhile The University of Florida’s St. Augustine Operations abruptly dropped a planned monument to U.S Colored Troops at Government House, based on the pretext that removal of the Confederate Monuments somehow excused failure to honor heroic African-Americans who helped liberate Jacksonville, free enslaved people, and helped re-take Fort Sumter. That was wrong.
29. St. Johns County’s oxymoronic “Growth Management” Department ordered the Cultural Resources Coordinator to lie to members of the Cultural Resources Review Board. He was ordered to suppress a three-year old report on preserving historic Hastings High School, telling employees not to do their jobs as required in the Land Development Code, expressing the fear that compliance with historic preservation laws would “scare off developers.” Four (4) Cultural Resources Coordinators in a row were driven off amidst a hostile working environment.
30. St. Augustine, UF and St. Johns County’s maladroit approach to St. Augustine history must end.
31. As suggested by Ary Lamme, III of UF in his book, America’s Historic Landscapes — Community Power and the Preservation of Four Historic Sites (1990), historic preservation in St. Augustine was delayed and history was destroyed because of provincial local businessmen, in sharp and marked contrast to other historic towns elsewhere.
32. JFK said, “Let us make the world safe for diversity. The National Park and Seashore should embrace diversity. It needs: (a) a U.S.C.T. monument. Likewise, we need a monument to: (a) the sixteen rabbis and one aide arrested here for praying in June 1964; (b) the three Roman Catholic nuns arrested on Governor’s orders for teaching Black people to read on May 20, 1916), and the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.
33. With wise gifts of state and local public lands and wise stewardship by NPS and local residents, we will create a St. Augustine National Seashore. We will help protect against beach erosion and flooding, protecting glorious wetlands and beaches and private property.
34. We must protect the winter calving (baby-rearing) grounds of the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale (some 300 survive), endangered turtles' nesting grounds, and habitats of bald eagles, beach mice, butterflies and other endangered and threatened wildlife for future generations to enjoy.
35. We have, we can and we will rescue historic lands threatened by “Temple Destroyers” (in John Muir's words). Thanks to Florida Forever funds, the St. Augustine City Commission and Planning and Zoning Board and the wisdom of our Matanzas Riverkeeper, Ms. Jen Lomberk, and thought leaders like Commissioner I. Henry Dean and former St. Augustine Beach Mayor Sherman Gary Snodgrass, Fish Island is ours. Threatened with development, the State of Florida bought it. Fish Island preserves the site of a slave plantation and burials, including the grave of Jesse Fish, a louche local businessman who started Florida’s citrus industry on Anastasia Island.
36. But we must be mindful that wrecking balls have already destroyed some of our history in this century, including Carpenter's House (part of the Dow Museum of Historic Homes now being privatized despite a $2.1 million State of Florida investment and Kenneth Worcester Dow's 62 years of philanthropic purchases; Don Pedro Fornells House (destroyed by Len Weeks, Historic Architectural Review Board chair, our ex-Mayor, working without mandatory permits, and fined only $3600 by our Code Enforcement Board); and a 3000-4000 year old Native American Indian archaeological site just south of St. Augustine (destroyed to build a strip malls and condominiums). Meanwhile, there’s no longer much Civil War history left in St. Augustine — two cenotaphs honoring local veterans were removed, at great expense, to a rural location, with hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by the City of St. Augustine and University of Florida to do the deed. Promised memorials to a lynching victim and to Civil War U.S. Colored Troops have not materialized. As Tacitus said, “They made a desert and they called it peace.”
37. St. Augustine is a national treasure, which must not be destroyed by mindless speculation and endless high rise buildings, like South Florida.
38. Our history, our buildings and these lands must be protected and not neglected – state parks and forests, water management district land, and county beaches, including Anastasia State Park and the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM-NERR) – will be combined into a National Historical Park and National Seashore in two counties, one that will preserve at least 130,000 acres of beach and uplands, rescuing them from threats: closing or privatizing of our parks, e.g., with golf courses (Florida is already blessed with some 1200 golf courses, thank you, and some of those are failing financially).
39. Every year since 2006, I’ve presented the testimony of StAugustGreen to our St. Johns County Legislative Delegation, and we talked about the St. Augustine National Historical Park and Seashore – our state legislators know that we can save tens of millions of dollars by giving selected state lands to the National Park Service.
40. Please see attached 2011 column from St. Augustine Underground (formerly published by Milwaukee Journal).
The St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore will help interpret American history that is too often neglected in our schools, including Hispanic, African-American, Native American and Civil Rights history. We have 11,000 years of Native-American history. NPS needs to do a better job of telling it, especially in St. Augustine, where ethnocentrism was long on display at the Castillo, where Native Americans were imprisoned in the 1800s.
41. St. Augustine has 500 years of European and African: history: a unique, multi-cultural blend of Spanish, Roman Catholic, African-American, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, Protestant, French, Menorcan, Greek, Italian, Irish, Haitian, Cuban, Gay, Civil War, Flagler-era, Civil Rights, Military, Nautical, Resort, Artistic and Musical history. Ray Charles and Marcus Roberts learned to play music in St. Augustine, at our Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. Many jazz musicians retire and play here.
42. Tourism is the engine of our economy. Environmental and historic tourists stay twice as long and spend twice as much, and they teach future generations of Americans to appreciate nature and understand our history. St. Augustine is rated as one of the best places to live, with the best schools, one of the best places to to retire, one of the most cultured places in Florida (Women's Day), hosts one of the ten best Christmas light displays in the world (National Geographic), and is one of 20 places in the world to see in 2013 (National Geographic).
43. With National Park Service branding, our City can recover from the Great Recession, just as recovered in past centuries, after hurricanes, British sieges, cannonballs and city-wide arson.
44. Then U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ronald Chairman Wyden said February 19, 2013 at Hanford, Washington's “B” Reactor, “there is an old saying that those who don't remember the past are doomed to repeat it.... My own view is that history isn't always ideal .... it is important to look deep into the well of history to get a clearer understanding of what lies ahead." Sen. Wyden said Hanford and other Manhattan Project sites “must be preserved so future generations understand what went on here.” He said 2012 was the first in decades Congress hadn't protected our “special places.”
45. Please schedule hearings to discuss the St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore. Our draft legislation was called “perfect” by one of our former City Commissioners, who worked at the CEQ and DoI under Presidents Clinton and Bush. This was after an unfriendly, unhelpful NPS attorney in Atlanta in 2009 refused to read our draft, while inaccurately writing that this would be criminal, mis-citing 18 U.S.C. 1913.
46. Thank you for helping St. Augustine, Florida win the respect she deserves from NPS and DoI. As Albert Camus said, “If you don't help us do this, then who else in the world will help us do this?”
47. Then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, in an ad lib speech on July 18, 2011, came close to endorsing the St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore, referring to “your National Parks here” Let's make it a reality. Secretary Salazar said St. Augustine is “one of our Creator's most special places,” and that its contributions to history need to be made “known to our Nation and the world – that history is important to tell.”
48. StAugustGreenTM respectfully urges you to support St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore. www.staugustgreen.com
49. By enacting the St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore legislation, we will conserve, preserve and protect nature, property and history, right wrongs, promote healing and teach tolerance. Our work is bipartisan, and will create another “public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” as Congress wrote in establishing Yellowstone National Park on March 1, 1872 – 150 years ago.
50. Will y’all please support “America's Best Idea” – a St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore – the best “legacy project” left undone after the 500th anniversary of Spanish Florida (2013), 450th anniversary of St. Augustine (2015) and 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (2014)?
51. What can you do? Floridians must be prepared to offer up some of our current state parks, forests and water management district lands for the St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore. Let's work together. Let's make this happen.
52. Again, as Admiral Hyman Rickover once asked Jimmy Carter in his 1946 job interview after graduating from the Naval Academy, “Why not the best?” Let us invest in “America's Best Idea.” Your grandchildren, and their grandchildren, will say thank you!
PO. Box 3084,
St. Augustine, Florida 32085-3084
One Attachment: Column with map from St. Augustine Underground (formerly published by Milwaukee Journal).