Gwendolyn Duncan, President of the 40th Anniversary to Commemorate the Civil Rights Demonstrations, Inc., described the 4th Annual ACCORD Freedom Trail Luncheon to local Historic City News reporters “as a mini-reunion of sorts — reuniting comrades of the Civil Rights Movement in the Nation’s Oldest City.”
Over 170 persons gathered for the July 2nd luncheon at the Casa Monica Hotel which commemorated the 46th Anniversary of the Signing of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and honored the heroes of the St. Augustine civil rights movement. ACCORD is a non-profit civil rights commemorative group.
“It was Divine Intervention that brought forth this event, at this time in history”, Duncan said.
Dr. Kathryn Fentress, told of a time when she first heard United States Congressman John Lewis speak. “This was many years ago to a group of Christian volunteers,” Fentress said. According to Fentress, it was that speech, over 50 years ago, that inspired her activism.
Local historian David Nolan told of a time when he saw the Congressman with a bandaged head — shortly after he was beaten by segregationists in the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Lewis was speaking to him and other college students in Virginia. The words spoken by John Lewis sparked his activism so much so that he left college to help with voter registration drives.
Dr. Robert B. Hayling’s first encounter with Lewis was in Nashville, Tennessee in the early 1960’s. Hayling, who completed his tour of duty in the Air Force as a First Lieutenant, was a student at Meharry Dental College. Segregationist bombed the home of his professor, Dr. Luby.
Hayling said, “The blast was so powerful that it blew out the windows in the dormitory.” During the same time, John Lewis, a student at Fisk University, organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee.
In 1961, Lewis volunteered to participate in the Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation at interstate bus terminals across the South. Lewis risked his life on those Rides many times by simply sitting in seats reserved for white patrons. He was also beaten severely by angry mobs and arrested by police for challenging the injustice of Jim Crow segregation in the South.
The sold-out crowd witnessed what Duncan described as “one of the most moving luncheons ever” as Dr. Fentress told of her experiences in St. Augustine, FL. “She not only came in 1964 when she was arrested with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the steps of the Monson Motor Lodge as he led his non-violent campaign against segregation,” Duncan recalled, “but was also in the Nation’s Oldest City in 1963 picketing outside of the Woolworth’s store.”
Blacks were allowed to spend their money to buy goods, but as Fentress said, “were served insults at the local lunch counter.”
Equally moving, Duncan reported, was Congressman Lewis — as he told of being beaten and jailed in his fight for justice and equality. After all that happened to him, he still believes that non-violence is right. He said if one thinks that things have not changed, “just walk in my shoes”. Lewis said, “We all came over on different ships, but we are all in the same boat now.”
Lewis encouraged everyone to strive together to bring about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of the “Beloved Community”.
Mr. Clyde Jenkins is the 2010 Recipient of the Second Annual Dr. Robert B. Hayling Award of Valor sponsored by Florida State Senator Tony Hill. His wife, of 60 years, Mrs. Hattie Hickson-Jenkins accepted the Award on behalf of her husband who is in the Samantha Wilson/Buckingham Smith living facility.
Jenkins, a local barber, was kidnapped by the Ku Klux Klan along with Dr. Hayling at a Klavern meeting where the Big Lots store now stands on US-1 South at SR-312. He and three others were stacked like cord wood, narrowly escaping certain death by fire. Undeterred, he continued his activism and was arrested on the steps of the Monson Motor Lodge in 1964 with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others.
Dr. Dee Israel, in an email to Duncan said, “Wanted you to know that you and the committee had the most fabulous event ever in St. Augustine; organized perfectly, food was great, camaraderie was terrific, Kathryn was awesome there were few dry eyes in the audience. You covered the past, present and future brilliantly and creatively — John was superb. Job more than well done. Don’t know how you can top this event next year.”
To read more about the ACCORD Freedom Trail activities, visit www.accordfreedomtrail.org
Photo credit: © 2010 Historic City News ACCORD contributed photograph