Fred Martin honored for local Civil Rights role

Gwendolyn Duncan contacted the local St. Johns County news desk at Historic City News to report on the recent ceremonies recognizing one of the unsung heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, a Canadian named Fred Martin.

Gwendolyn Duncan, is the President of The 40th Anniversary to Commemorate the Civil Rights Demonstrations, Inc.

The 40th ACCORD hosted a reception in Martin’s honor on March 19, 2010, when over three dozen people gathered to recognize the important role Martin played on behalf of the Civil Rights Movement.

To learn more about The 40th ACCORD, visit their website at

Martin was labeled as “an outside agitator” in 1964 but was greeted to a hero’s welcome by Dr. Robert B. Hayling; leader of the St. Augustine Movement. This reception was unlike the reception Martin received in 1964 — when snipers were on the roof tops of nearby buildings waiting to take him out.

ACCORD and many well wishers warmly greeted him back to the Nation’s Oldest City.

Deacon Richard Burton, Sr. former NAACP National Board Member and Director of Project R.E.A.C.H. of Jacksonville, FL was the Emcee for the Program. Mrs. Carrie Johnson welcomed the crowd to the event. Dr. Robert B. Hayling, guest speaker recalled many courageous acts displayed by Martin. Gwendolyn Duncan read greetings which included a letter from U.S. Senator Bill Nelson.

David Nolan, local historian and co-chair of the ACCORD Freedom Trail Project, bringing the occasion said, “Historians will always be grateful to Fred Martin for the meticulous notes he kept during the months of May, June, and July 1964, when the civil rights movement was at fever pitch in St. Augustine.”

Nolan says that he has had much experience with trying to reconstruct the details of those days. “I have heard people assert–with the fading memories of nearly half a century–that they were there “When Mrs. Peabody and Dr. King jumped in the Monson pool and Jimmy Brock poured acid on them.” Well, various parts of that happened, but not all at the same time and with the same people,” Nolan said. “Memory plays funny tricks on us.”

So we are dependent on reliable accounts from closer to the time period, something that Martin has been able to provide.

During Nolan’s comments, he said, “I have gone through the FBI reports from St. Augustine in 1963 and 1964: they are available on microfilm at the University of Florida Library in Gainesville. I hoped to have found a treasure trove–but was disappointed. There were reports, day after day, saying the same thing: “Florida Memorial College students picketed a downtown store.” What store? What students? What were their names? What happened to them? So much useful information was left out! Then Fred Martin sent the treasure trove of notes he took in 1964–and there were the details we had been looking for.”

Nolan gave the following examples, for instance, on May 28, 1964:

* 1:20 PM–Mrs. Nellie Mitchell, Mrs. Georgie M. Reed, Mrs. Gertrude Jones (captain) went to Ponce de Leon to eat. All three were arrested.

* 2:00 PM–Mr. James H. Streeter, Miss Maud Burroughs (college student), Mrs. Annie Mae Simmons (captain) went to Monson to eat. Water hose was turned on them. Mrs. Simmons was kicked in the lower abdomen by James Brock, the manager of Monson’s.”

“When we were putting together the markers for the Freedom Trail, Fred’s notes were of inestimable value,” Nolan continued. “Fred Martin is from Canada. When people like that come down here to spend money, we call them tourists. When they came down here in 1964 to do the right thing, they were called “Outside Agitators.”

Nolan concluded by saying, “I say thank God for outside agitators like Fred Martin! I only regret that he didn’t come earlier and stay longer.”

To top off the day’s event, about a dozen well wishers joined Fred Martin, his wife, son, and daughter-in-law, at Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grill for lunch. In attendance were: sisters, Deltra and Alice Long; Purcell and June Conway; Gwendolyn Duncan and daughter Elizabeth; David Nolan; Dr. Robert B. Hayling; Gale Burnick; Deacon & Mrs. Richard P. Burton; and Audrey Nell Edwards


Fred Martin graduated from the University of Alberta, in 1963, with a BS with honors in Mathematics. He joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, under the direction of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Fred was sent to St. Augustine in 1964 and given his assignment by Rev. Andrew Young to, “keep notes on what happened”.

Martin sporadically attended California Institute of Technology during his stint with SCLC which lasted until 1968. He was involved in voter registration, political organizing, and direct action campaigns in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. He says that he, “learned enough about changing un-just political systems to earn lumps, jail time, and ulcers…and about the structure of semi-simple group algebra to earn a MS in Math for Cal Tech”.

Martin did some work on his PhD in Math and moved to British Columbia steelhead fishing and working with west coast Indian Bands. He worked with the Alberta Federation of Metis Settlement Associations in an effort to secure the land base of the Metis Settlements to increase their capacity for self-governance.

Martin earned his LLB from the University of Alberta Law School, he Articled, practiced, and later became a partner in Ackroyd LLP. His practice was a mix of public utilities and corporate aboriginal law.

Martin appeared as counsel in power, gas, and telephone rate applications and related public utility hearings. His corporate work was putting structures for joint ventures on energy related projects. He worked for the Nunavut government on energy policy and the creation of their own power company. The Aboriginal related work involved NWT work on a new constitution, arctic gas pipeline…, federal work for the Royal Commission, new Indian lands legislation…,other First Nations work…, but mostly work for the Metis Settlements in Alberta developing and implementing an Accord with Alberta that ended a 20 year lawsuit about oil and put in place new legislation creating a self-governance framework for the Settlements and amending the Constitution of Alberta to protect the land and then trying to make it all work.

In 2006, Fred Martin retired; but he says that he does “a little consulting — when the right project comes along.”

Photo credit: © 2010 Historic City News contributed photograph by Shirley Williams-Galvin

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