Civil Rights Museum trusted with irreplaceable artifact

Missing for over twenty years, Historic City News was there when St. Johns County Sheriff David B. Shoar presented the original fingerprint card of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on loan to the fledgling Civil Rights museum located inside the former Excelsior High School in Lincolnville.

Educators, historians, foot soldiers; all gathered yesterday to witness the ceremonial unveiling of an irreplaceable artifact the Civil Rights movement in St. Augustine — a piece of history that has been missing for over twenty years, according to the St. Johns County Sheriff.

Former St. Augustine Mayor George Gardner opened the observance of tangible evidence of the city’s place in what some were calling “the turning point” in securing the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

King was arrested only twice during his participation and leadership of the non-violent movement; once in Birmingham, Alabama, and once in St. Augustine, Florida.

Although the fingerprint card signed by Dr. King clearly demonstrates where he wound up, depending on who you ask, there is some controversy over where the arrest actually occurred, and possibly, by whom.

Former Deputy Sheriff Everett Haney is indisputably King’s 1964 arresting officer according to Sheriff Shoar — his signature appears below King on the fingerprint card. Haney, who appeared for the ceremony with the aid of a wheelchair and help from his wife, told Historic City News editor Michael Gold that he arrested Dr. King on the steps in front of the public market on Charlotte Street.

Local historian David Nolan says, “uh uh”. Nolan is convinced that King was arrested when he confronted local hotelier Jimmy Brock on the steps of the Monson Motor Inn. On June 11, 1964, King attempted to enter the front door to the Monson dining room; that much is certain. Nolan provided Gold a copy of what he says is a transcript of the conversation between Brock and Dr. King.

The transcript indicates that after asking King twice to leave peacefully, or, to order and eat his meal in the service area of the restaurant, where negro maids and chauffeurs of white visitors had been served in the past, Brock instructed then Chief of Police Virgil Stuart to arrest Dr. King and his party — to which Stuart announced, “You are all under arrest”.

Gold asked Dr. Robert B. Hayling, who was closely involved in the demonstrations with Dr. King in St. Augustine, and attended yesterday’s program. “I really can’t be sure where he was arrested,” Hayling told Gold, Nolan and St. Augustine City Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline.

Gold asked Phillip M. Whitley; former photographer for the St. Augustine Record for more than twelve-years during the 60’s and 70’s. Whitley said that he recalls King being arrested on the steps of the market, as well. Whitley did not take the photograph of the confrontation between Brock and King; however, he did photograph a firebomb attack that occurred at the Monson afterwards and a collection of photographs that included scenes of civil unrest around the city.

More to follow …..

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

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