St. Augustine's Civil Rights Movement
Saint Augustine Florida — population 15,000 (roughly 75% white, 25% Black) — is still thoroughly segregated in 1963. Founded in 1565 by Spanish colonizers, it claims to be "the oldest city in America" — meaning, of course, the oldest city settled by Europeans because some of the pueblo towns of the Southwest date back to the 11th Century or earlier. Until the Civil War, St. Augustine was a slave trade center, and when the town became a vacation destination in the 1890s the old slave market was turned into a tourist attraction.
Lincolnville is St. Augustine's Black neighborhood and Mrs. Fannie Fullerwood — who works as a maid for a white family — is president of the local NAACP. In March of 1963, she sends a letter to President Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson asking that they reject a $350,000 grant to the city for a segregated celebration of its 400th anniversary. With Greenwood and Birmingham on front pages around the world, LBJ replies that: "No event in which I will participate in St. Augustine will be segregated." But what does that mean? Does it mean that places and events will be temporarily desegregated while he is present, or does it mean he will only participate in locations that have been permanently integrated?
Intense negotiations between the local NAACP, St. Augustine's white power structure, and LBJ's representatives ensue. LBJ comes to town for a banquet, and for the first time in history, Blacks enter the lavish Ponce de Leon Hotel ballroom as guests rather than maids or bus boys (they are seated by themselves at two "Negro" tables). But St Augustine's lunch counters, rest rooms, and other facilities remain segregated, as does the Ponce de Leon after the Vice President leaves. And the next day when NAACP leaders show up for a promised meeting with the City Commision, they are shown to an empty room with a tape recorder. They are told to record their complaints because no white official will meet with them in person.
By early June, the hope that had soared at the time of LBJ's visit is dying. Nothing has come from the tape-recorded grievances, and so far as the city is concerned, the 400th anniversary celebations are going to be on a segregated basis. Dr. Robert Hayling, a young Black dentist recently arrived in the city, becomes head of the St. Augustine NAACP Youth Council (SAYC). He announces that unless there is some tangible progress, the young people of St. Augustine are ready to begin nonviolent direct-action like the children of Birmingham. A few days later he leads small groups of pickets at the local Woolworths to protest segregation. They carry signs reading: "If We Spend Money Here Why Can't We Eat Here?"
The Klan threatens to kill Hayling. *Hayling is reported to have told a reporter: "I and others have armed. We will shoot first and ask questions later. We are not going to die like Medgar Evers." The press, which has ignored the Black community and issues of segregation, seize on his remark, sensationalizing it to mean that Blacks are arming to attack innocent whites. National leaders of the NAACP repudiate Hayling's statement as a provocation. They assure the FBI that they are working to silence Hayling.
In July, sixteen SAYC members sit-in at the segregated counter and are arrested. Seven of them are younger than 17 and thus legally classified as juveniles. Charles Mathis, the local judge, denies them bail. He refuses to release them unless their parents sign a promise that they won't demonstrate until they reach age 21. Four of the families refuse to agree, and the "St. Augustine Four" — JoAnn Anderson Ulmer, Audrey Nell Edwards, Willie Carl Singleton, and Samuel White — are sent to state reform schools. When an NAACP attorney tries to free them, Judge Mathis claims that they are beyond the jurisdiction of the legal system. The young teenagers remain locked up, away from their parents and out of school, until January when pressure on the Florida governor finally wins their release.
Outraged at the indefinite incarceration of the St. Augustine Four and the continued refusal of the city to appoint a bi-racial commission or meet with Black leaders, Dr. Hayling leads a mass march of more than 100 adults towards the Old Slave Market on Labor Day. The police attack, arresting Hayling and 26 others.
Two weeks later, shortly after the Birmingham church bombing, the Ku Klux Klan holds a rally and cross-burning in a nearby field. Rev. Lynch, head of the National States Rights Party, addresses 300 racists, telling them that the four young girls slain in Birmingham were: ".. old enough to have venereal diseases," and were no more human or innocent than rattlesnakes. "So kill 'em all, and if it's four less n-word tonight, then good for whoever planted the bomb. We're all better off!"
Suddenly the cry "N-word!! N-word!!!" goes up from the crowd who push forward Dr. Hayling and SAYC activists Clyde Jenkins, James Hauser, and James Jackson who have been caught observing the rally. They are brutally beaten unconscious with fists, chains, and clubs. Only the arrival of Highway Patrol officers prevent them from being burned alive. St. Johns County Sheriff L.O. Davis — a Klan sympathizer — arrests four whites for the beating and also arrests the four unarmed Blacks for "assaulting" the 300 armed Klansmen. Charges against the Klansmen are dismissed, Hayling is convicted of "criminal assault."
Over the following weeks, tension escalates. The home of a Black family whose child has integrated a white school is burned. A carload of KKK night riders races through Lincolnville shooting into Black homes. Blacks return fire, killing one Klansman. NAACP activist Rev. Goldie Eubanks and three others are indicted for murder. Meanwhile, disturbed by Hayling's militancy, the national NAACP removes him as head of the Youth Council. Hayling, Eubanks, Henry & Kathrine Twine, and other freedom fighters leave the NAACP and contact SCLC for assistance.
* What Dr. Hayling actually said (as told to Mrs. Gwendolyn Duncan) was, “I intend to protect my life, my property, and that of my family with all the vim, vigor, and vitality at my command”.
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