St Augustine: Rape of the Ancient City
by A. G. Heinsohn, Jr.
Special to Historic City News
In a few weeks, St Augustine residents and visitors will be part of a year of commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the role our extended community played in the Civil Rights Movement.
In retrospect, we found it interesting to compare our commonly held opinions today and perceptions to those reported in the “news of the day”, fifty years ago. The aggregation of material was first published in the October, 1964 issue of AMERICAN OPINION — an informal monthly review edited by Robert Welch. The reporter, A. G. Heinsohn, Jr., traveled to St Johns County for interviews with public officials and others and to observe nationally televised news coverage of protests and protestors; some of whom are still part of the political landscape today.
Spontaneous and contemporaneous reporting, especially by CBS, NBC, and ABC television networks, gave families in other parts of the country their only insight into our city, the people who lived and worked here, and the moral compass that we followed in our day-to-day lives. The authors raise the prospect that some – if not all, or most – of the civil unrest was staged for the national media cameras. They opine that many participants may have been little more than outside agitators sent here to portray St Augustine to be a town that it really wasn’t.
AG Heinsohn, Jr. was president of Cherokee Textile Mills. A scholar and practical economist, he is the author of “One Man’s Fight for Freedom” and “Anthology of Conservative Writing”, described as a collection of many of the “finest Americanist essays and articles of the past two decades”.
“The following is a result of days of careful inquiry and interviews in St. Augustine,” Heinsohn wrote.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions of those persons quoted or referenced in this article are not necessarily those of this publication, its employees, or persons other than those sources attributed; they are provided “as is” in furtherance of public discussion and they are accepted by readers for informational purposes only.
FOUR HUNDRED YEARS ago next September, St. Augustine, the oldest city in America, was founded on the east coast of Florida by Spanish explorers. Time has only beautified this ancient city of eighteen thousand citizens. St. Augustine, with its forty-five miles of wide, sandy beaches and its fascinating store of Spanish antiquity, has long been a vacation playground and a mecca for history-conscious tourists.
Since the founding of the city, white and Negro families have lived side by side in peace and happiness. They live that way today, within one block of the City Hall and in most other parts of the city. For seventy-five years, the Negro citizens have voted in city elections, and civic participation by St. Augustine’s four thousand Negroes has been constantly encouraged by such organizations as the local Junior Chamber of Commerce – which has even operated voter-registration campaigns among Negro citizens.
Always a leader in municipal responsibility, St. Augustine was one of the first Southern cities to employ Negroes on its police force. This was done thirty years ago, and the integrated St. Augustine Police Department has been used as a model for other Southern cities. It might also be noted that the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Department, the county force also responsible for the city of St. Augustine, has been integrated now for many years.
There are no segregation ordinances on the city’s books, and, as a result, no public facilities are segregated. The public schools were integrated in the Fall of 1963 without a court order. Or the ocean, separate public beaches were used; but not by compulsion of law, by habit and by preference. Most Negroes used Butler’s Beach. In fact, the main section of that beach was donated to the State especially for Negroes by Frank Butler, a leading Negro citizen.
Some three years ago, a Negro dentist named Dr. R. B. Hayling arrived, in this quaint, peaceful community. He came to take over the practice of the late Dr. Rudolph N. Gordon, a highly respected Negro dentist with many more white patients than colored.
Then, shortly after his arrival, Hayling surfaced as an extreme and violent racist -demanding racial coordination by the force of government. He soon became the leader of the local NAACP group. In June of 1963, the Mayor of St Augustine, Dr. Joseph Shelly, was forced to return from his vacation because Hayling, the dentist, claimed they could no longer restrain his NAACP followers from acts of violence unless the city complied with certain demands.
Upon his return, Mayor Shelly was compelled to reject Hayling’s incredible demands for desegregation on the simple grounds that no public facilities were segregated, and because-as everyone knows-he had no such authority privately-owned restaurants and motels. For these same reasons, the Mayor also refused to appoint a “bi-racial committee,” a propaganda scheme proposed by the militant dentist.
Mr. Hayling’s followers then began to engage in sit-in and lie-in demonstrations on private property, in open violation of local and state laws-the sort of simple trespass laws which have been a part of most state and local codes for centuries.
The local police were thus forced to arrest and remove the lawbreakers. Not a single Negro was injured. The failure of these demonstrations to produce violence now seemed to provoke the need for more drastic action by Dr. Hayling.
A UPI dispatch of June 19, 1962 quotes Hayling as threatening criminal violence:
I and others of the NAACP have armed ourselves, and we will shoot first and ask questions later.
On November 15, 1963, Hayling was severely reprimanded by Judge William McRae in the Federal Court at Jacksonville, Florida, where he sought an injunction against the city.
In denying the injunction, the Federal Judge told Hayling:
The court is of the opinion that the plaintiff did not come into court with clean hands. Their leadership and particularly Robert B. Hayling have displayed a lack of restraint, common sense and good judgment, and an irresponsibility which have done a disservice to the advancement of the best interests of all the plaintiffs and others in St. Augustine who are similarly situated. Problems which might well have been solved by intelligent action have been handled with deliberate provocation and apparent intent to incite disorder and confusion.
At this point, the local NAACP was forced to disavow Hayling.
The little city now settled down to prepare itself for the anticipated flow of tourists upon whom they depend for a living. In the meantime, Hayling, after being dropped by the NAACP, became the local leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the front organization of the notorious Martin Luther King.
As such, he invited March 11, 1964 the Massachusetts Chapter of the SCLC to send agitators to St. Augustine during the college spring vacation.
Just before the spring vacation began, a shocked local boy, attending school in Connecticut, warned St. Augustine’s Mayor Shelly of the planned invasion. He also sent the Mayor copies of leaflets that had been distributed to students and clergymen throughout the New England area by the Student Christian Movement and the SCLC; the leaflets called for demonstrations in St. Augustine on March twenty-first to twenty-eight and/or March twenty-ninth to April fourth. Trouble was on its way.
Dr. Hardgrove S. Norris, a prominent surgeon and a highly respected citizen of St. Augustine, gives this eyewitness account of the invasion that followed:
“St. Augustine has been targeted for demonstrations since last summer. There were sporadic attempts to integrate restaurants and motels. This was done in some of the chain firms such as at the Holiday Inn, Howard Johnson’s, and Woolworth’s. By Easter, a special task force invaded St. Augustine, highlighted by the activities of the Peabodys of Massachusetts. The last week of May saw the real invasion under the command of Martin Luther King and his lieutenants. In spite of King’s efforts, at no time, I repeat, at no time, did the peace of St. Augustine become threatened. At no time did the local police and Sheriff lose control. Law and order were maintained completely. The city further strengthened the hand of its law-enforcement officers by declaring a ban on demonstrations after eight-thirty at night. It was at this point that the Federal Judiciary, in the form of the Federal Court in Jacksonville under Judge Simpson, turned the demonstrators loose by interdicting the right of the city to impose and enforce the ban – an unbelievable precedent. Concurrently with this, the Governor of the State of Florida intervened directly in the internal administration of law enforcement in our community.
Now it is important to understand that prior to this, the Governor had cooperated with the City of St. Augustine by sending in as an auxiliary force a small number of state troopers. Because of the invasion of outsiders of unknown accountability, the citizens of our community, the city officials, the Chief of Police, and Sheriff, appreciated the relief and aid which those troopers provided and were very glad to see them here.”
But, on June fifteenth, a change occurred.
The Governor suddenly invoked an emergency police power that had been voted by a special session of the Florida Legislature in 1956. He announced to the Press that he was taking personal command of law enforcement in “strife-torn” St. Augustine. This was strange because there was no strife in St. Augustine.
“As a member of the staff of Flagler Hospital, I can vouch that we had very few injuries resulting from the demonstrations brought to the hospital, and the injured that were brought were of a minor consequence usually treatable with a Band-Aid,” said Dr. Norris. “The action of the Governor was simply not justified by the actual situation in St. Augustine.”
This unusual and curious act by Governor Farris Bryant rendered the powers of the local Sheriff and Chief of Police impotent. They were left to handle petty larceny and the usual misdemeanors that plague any community – but they were now powerless to prevent an outbreak of violence which might result from the presence or activity of “Reverend” King’s racist agitators.
St. Augustine was firmly in the hands of the Governor’s special police force, and the arbitrary actions of that force were shocking.
We again quote Dr. Norris:
“From being a friendly force, the state troopers were transformed almost overnight into a hostile army. There were incidents of citizens being stopped in the course of their normal movement and searched, the most pedestrian articles were often seized, and all this was done without warrant or reason. One of the first individuals treated in this fashion was a prominent physician, Dr. Raymond S. Cafaro. He’d been on a house call and was returning down one of our main streets when he was stopped by a trooper and told that the area was blocked and he had to go another direction. The doctor demurred and agreed to turn around and retrace his steps.
As he started off, the state trooper commanded him to halt, and, when he rolled to a stop, he was ordered to identify himself. Even though Dr. Cafaro did this properly, he was forced to get out of his automobile, place his hands on the roof top of the car, spread his legs and be ignominiously searched in front of local citizens, many of whom knew and respected him and who vigorously protested to the state trooper. They were told to shut up, or they would be put in jail. The state trooper then forced the doctor against a stone wall, leaving the car in the middle of the road, and called a patrol wagon to take him to jail.
Fortunately a local policeman happened to arrive on the spot and secured the doctor’s release.
“Another incident occurred to the wife of one of our other physicians. She was kindly delivering some medicine to a friend. It was about eleven o’clock at night when she was stopped very much in the same fashion. Because she did not halt fast enough for the officer, she was hauled out of the automobile and carried off to jail.
Her husband had to get out of bed and go to the jail to secure her release. He was compelled to post a twenty-five dollar bond. This is in contrast to the treatment accorded Martin Luther King, who was proved to have employed, in his agitation, parolees of a minor age from a detention school. He was charged with the crime of “contributing to the delinquency of a minor,” but King was treated differently; he was released without bail on his own cognizance.
“Another incident occurred in which a man appeared at the Sheriff’s office with a receipt to reclaim his son’s toy popgun, one of those cork air-guns that children use. He presented himself to the Sheriff and asked where he had to go to recover this deadly weapon which the Governor’s officers had seized from his car the night before.
“A very revealing incident was the arrest by a state trooper of a local policeman of fifteen-years honorable service. He was in civilian clothes at the time, but identified himself to the trooper. Our police officer was charged with carrying a concealed weapon which, in actuality, was a fifteen-inch piece of water pipe. He was carrying the pipe, as evidence, openly in his hand to the police station to be checked for fingerprints. On arrival at the county jail, a Deputy Sheriff again identified this man as a local police officer. Nonetheless, the state trooper still preferred charges and our officer was jailed.
Obviously, the judge threw this case out of court.
As these incidents were multiplied many times over, local citizens were horrified to realize that the state troopers who at first had been allies and friends were now their jailers, and had, in effect, isolated and exposed their integrated, model community to the nightmare of what can only be called a police state. Citizens quickly realized that there was no difference between what was happening under the state troopers and what would have happened if an occupying federal army had been sent in. The treatment, in no way, could have been worse.
“The commandant of the state troopers, meeting with doctors in our community in an endeavor to set up a precautionary First Aid Station, made the comment that his orders were to protect the Negroes in whatever demonstrations they might wish to make,” Norris said. “It was obvious that this was exactly what the state troopers were doing; protecting imported agitators – under our Governor’s orders – as they set about violating the peace and private property of our citizens.”
The state troopers stood by while the demonstrators invaded the private swimming pool of a motor court. They even led midnight marchers through residential sections, turning flashlights upon the first and second story windows of houses where families were sleeping. They permitted the demonstrators to bellow songs and shout, and allowed them, as well as news photographers, to trample private lawns, destroying shrubbery and flowers.
The special state troopers ceased to be regarded as friends and some restaurants even refused to serve them. During this time, our Chief of Police and Sheriff were forced to withhold their forces. The commandant of the state troops made no attempt to coordinate and cooperate with them in any way, and the city officials and the city law enforcement agencies were completely bypassed.”
From many eyewitnesses come statements praising the Sheriff and the Chief of Police who on one occasion were even forced to brush aside the confused state troopers in order to avert certain violence; they turned demonstrators from a planned line of march which would have taken them right into a meeting of angry white citizens gathered in the Plaza.
At least seven eyewitnesses to whom we spoke felt that the special state police force was saved from a serious situation only by the quick and intelligent action of the local enforcement officers who knew and understood the local situation.
Remember that, in creating this special state police force, Governor Bryant conferred upon it the power to make arrests for violation of any regulation that he might promulgate. This, in effect, turned St. Augustine into a police state under martial law. During the period, it was primarily white local citizens who were seized and searched for so-called deadly weapons by the Governor’s special police force. There was an obvious effort made to avoid searching Negroes and agitators. The few times that the Sheriff was able to have even a few of the demonstrators searched, law officers collected numerous pistols, knives, and ice picks.
When the Sheriff tried a general search of demonstrators before a mass march, the special police force refused to allow it.
Now that the race agitators have departed, law-abiding citizens of this ancient city have paused to reflect; many questions come to their minds. One has to do with Hayling, the dentist. His dental practice is almost nonexistent. His dental office is now a near headquarters for outside agitators, and he is still authorizing bills in the name of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The source of the funds that sustain him and support his activities is a mystery.
The provocative and willfully unlawful acts of the publicity-seeking Mrs. Malcolm E. Peabody, mother of the Governor of Massachusetts, are regarded by most St. Augustinians as those of a misguided “do-gooder” in her dotage; acts to he expected from the brainwashed wife of a retired Episcopal Bishop tainted with a strange public record of some thirteen Communist Front affiliations.
No such compassion is felt, however, for her son, the Reverend George Peabody, whose display of straight-from-the-bottle vodka drinking – while in clerical garb – engendered no great wave of respect.
The same might be said of his later performance described in these words by L. O. Davis Jr., Sheriff of St. Johns County:
“While Mrs. Peabody was recently confined in the St. Johns County Jail, a man dressed in the garb of a priest or minister came to the jail and stated that he wanted to visit his mother, and that he was her son, Reverend Peabody.
I told him that she was retired and that I did not allow visits from persons who were heavily under the influence of intoxicants and refused to allow him to visit her. I told him that if he did not leave that I would prefer charges against him. He called a taxicab and left.”
The citizens of St. Augustine think they understand – if they cannot respect – the Peabodys; but they cannot understand why they were invaded by a Press corps many times larger than the one that came to report the visit to their city by Vice President Lyndon Johnson last March 11, 1963.
If reporting the truth is still considered a proper journalistic function, then, they ask, why didn’t the Press check the inflammatory and false statements contained in the releases of King’s fronts before moving an army of cameramen and reporters into their city?
Why were cameramen and reporters always stationed, in advance, at the trouble spots?
Their presence was even used as an indicator by law officers who thus knew where the agitators planned to perform next. Why were the agents of the Press so openly in favor of the provocateurs and so violently against the citizens of their peaceful little town? The questions go on and on.
Another puzzle to them is the complete reversal of position taken by certain public officials. Why, they prudently inquire, should a Federal Judge deny an injunction against the city (and in doing so actually brand Mrs. Malcolm Peabody a trouble-making outsider) and then suddenly reverse himself and supinely grant the same injunction to Martin Luther King – this time publicly humiliating their Mayor, Chief of Police, and Sheriff?
From many eyewitnesses comes the impression that Judge Simpson conducted a court that was demonstrably biased in favor of King’s hoodlums. After the lawyers for the city and the lawyers for the agitators had rested their cases, Judge Simpson even took a day and a half to ask leading, often insulting, and highly loaded questions of local law-enforcement officers while fawning upon the racist agents and their attorneys.
“Reverend” King was surely a far greater hero to this Federal Judge than he was to the Negro ministers of St. Augustine, who refused to have anything to do with him. After all, the Negro ministers concluded, St. Augustine is not a segregated community. They were also familiar with King’s past associations with the activities and agents of the Communist Party of the United States.
And why, St. Augustinians ask, did their Governor reverse his position from supporting the very efficient local law enforcement agents to downgrading them and placing over them a special state force with orders to protect the Negroes – and not the total community?
What changed his mind? He had numerous agents in St. Augustine who knew how efficiently and peacefully the local law officers were then handling the situation. And, perhaps most important, who convinced the Governor to proclaim a state of emergency over this peaceful American city?
As distant spectators the citizens of St. Augustine – like all of us – saw local law enforcement officers displaced by federal paratroopers in Little Rock, Arkansas. They also saw local law enforcement officers displaced with Federal Marshals in Oxford, Mississippi. They have noted the cries of “police brutality” coming from the Communist Press and certain foolish “Liberal” dailies in Northern cities – and against some of the best local police forces in the world.
But before their very eyes the citizens of St. Augustine now watched as their own efficient and respected police officers were displaced by a subservient Governor and replaced by a strange special police force. After putting two and two together, they wonder if St. Augustine was not used as a practice run to test the use of special state police forces, instead of the U.S. Army or U.S. Marshals, as an occupying military unit.
When the demonstrations of both the amateur “do-gooders” and the professional provocateurs led by Martin Luther King failed to produce riots and violence – when the citizens of St. Augustine, Negro and white, refused to act lawlessly – “Reverend” King found himself in trouble. He had boasted in previous press conferences that he would “have St. Augustine on its knees” in ten days.
He was now being severely criticized for his failure by the more militant Negro leaders who have since operated their successful riots in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Illinois, Kansas, and Michigan; they were clamoring for his removal as a leader of the cause. King now needed a face-saving operation very badly. It came in the form of a most unusual telephone call from United States Senator George Smathers. The Senator, stating that he was acting as liaison officer for the President of the United States, urged a business leader of St. Augustine to comply with “Reverend” King’s demand to form a bi-racial committee. This would save face for King, as he had now completely lost out on every other demand.
To the credit of local businessmen, and the Mayor, the entire community of St. Augustine – black and white – stood firm. They refused to bow the knee to King, to the Governor, the Senator, or even to the White House. They flatly refused to form or to serve on the phony hi-racial committee, come Hell, hurricane, or the whole Fifth Army.
It was Governor Bryant who now rushed to the rescue of Martin Luther King by announcing that he had formed a hi-racial committee for St. Augustine. When asked by the Press to name the members of the committee, the Governor – always an innovator – offered something new in American politics: “It was a secret committee,” he said.
The bewildered local citizens are convinced that the same White House pressure that was applied to their Senator was again used on their Governor. There is, under the circumstances, no other explanation.
Finally, armed with a non-existent victory, “Reverend” King could go to Washington to be pictured standing behind President Lyndon Johnson as he signed the newly enacted “Civil Rights Bill.”
In their initial state of shock, St. Augustinians were reluctant to believe that the highest office of this land could, or would, be used to bail out a racist agitator like Martin Luther King. It was with dismay and disbelief that they found their Federal Judge, their junior Senator, and their Governor trying to force them to “their knees” instead of fighting to protect them in their Constitutional rights.
Today, the stunned citizens of St. Augustine are beginning to recover from the immediate terror of their experience. They find themselves, as one native expressed it, “between a rock and a hard place.”
If they accede to the continuing demands of one Martin Luther King, they will not only suffer from the loss of local trade, but they know that fewer tourists will wish to visit their beautiful city.
On the other hand, if they refuse to obey the public accommodations section of the new “Civil Rights Bill” (proclaimed an un-Constitutional invasion of private property by many authorities, both in and out of Congress), they will be held in contempt of court and deprived of their property.
This pitiful situation is perhaps best expressed by one of the affected restaurant owners who says:
“This thing is more than just civil rights if this law stands, Congress can pass any law it wants to, and that means a powerful centralized government with complete control over our lives and savings. I had to leave high school to earn my living, but under the American free enterprise system, I got what I’ve always dreamed of owning; my own business. I’ve fought and worked hard for what I’ve got. Now that it’s almost mine and almost paid for, my government comes along and threatens to destroy me, instead of protecting me, just to please outside, trouble-making agitators.”
The responsible citizens of St. Augustine have shown that they deplore violence and do not intend to use it. Naturally, they will resist laws that deprive them of their personal freedom and destroy them financially – but they continue to see corrective action at the polls as the proper approach.
Their first- concern, of course, is to correct the absolutely false and dishonest reporting that has cut their normal tourist trade in half. St. Augustine, today, is as safe a place for tourists, if not safer, than any other city in America. It is certainly far safer than our nation’s capital where women fear to walk the streets alone at night, or even New York City, the site of the World’s Fair. This fact is clearly realized by today’s tourists who are delighted to find beauty and peace in this ancient town – instead of the ugly violence so falsely pictured by the hatchet men of the “Liberal” Press.
The second concern of St. Augustinians is to take corrective, legal action to undo the injustice which they feel has been imposed upon peaceful citizens of all races by the patently un-Constitutional features of the new “Civil Rights” law. Proper, peaceful action at the polls is again the approach they propose to take.
To this city, which so recently learned the meaning of the phrase “police state,” Election Day, 1964 means more than it may seem to mean elsewhere in this great land. Citizens of this ancient and lovely city on the sea have already learned what “Liberalism” has in store for all Americans unless, as a nation, we once again honor our commitment to our God, to our founding fathers, and to the Constitution of the United States.
In the meantime, they have entrusted us to remind you that if it can happen in St. Augustine, your town could be next.