On a corn, cotton and watermelon farm in Barnwell, S.C., during the first term of President Theodore Roosevelt, St. Augustine resident Rena H. Ayers came into this world with no idea what an exciting journey was ahead.
On Monday, October 10, Ayers will turn 107 years-old in her family’s modest home located at 120 DeHaven Street. She is one of those Lincolnville fixtures that you always expect to see — after all, her home was built there in 1920, making it older than the original Bridge of Lions.
Gwendolyn Duncan, president of the 40th ACCORD, Inc., told Historic City News that on July 2, 2008, a Freedom Trail Marker was installed by the non-profit organization in Ayers’ front yard.
During the Civil Rights struggle, Ayers opened her home to provide shelter for people who came to help the movement. One of them was attorney Alvin J. Bronstein, who had intended to stay only two weeks but stayed four years.
Bronstein served on the Lawyers’ Constitutional Defense Committee, which handled important civil rights cases, including one for Dr. Martin Luther King. “He was no trouble at all,” Ayers said.
One thing Ayers takes very seriously — her right to vote. She registered with the St. Johns County Supervisor of Elections office, as a Democrat, on March 13, 1974. When there is an election in which she is eligible to vote — she votes.
In 2008, Bronstein returned to visit St. Augustine and met Mama Rena again after more than 40 years.
Reverend C. T. Vivian, PhD., was the keynote speaker that year for the ACCORD 2nd Annual Freedom Trail Luncheon, “Honoring True American Heroes of the St. Augustine Civil Rights Movement”.
Ayers was honored at the luncheon as well and given a bouquet of flowers and a trophy.
Mama Rena loves flowers and that “good rice” she said.