A profound contribution from our city

The monument that was built to commemorate the contribution of demonstrators and protesters, who were the “foot soldiers” during the civil rights movement in St. Augustine, looks as though it could have been perched in the Plaza for decades.

The St. Augustine Foot Soldiers Remembrance Project raised more than $70,000 to pay Deltona sculptor Brian R. Owens and Bronzart Foundry in Sarasota to construct the monument; which couldn’t be more impressive.

Members of the community-based 501(c)3, non-profit organization, are recognized for their volunteer service and financial contribution with small plaques attached to two benches — ideally located for those who come to St. Augustine and who will undoubtedly pause for a few introspective thoughts as they pass by.

As a native-born St. Augustinian, and someone who grew up here during segregation, as well as the earliest days of integration, I must say that I am impressed with the results of this project. Of course, you hear Dr. Hayling or Hank Thomas speak about their experiences from inside the movement and you get an entirely different perspective than from a desk at Fullerwood Elementary School in 1964.

Over discussion with morning coffee and other businessmen who have been here as long as me, I think I’ve concluded that I am most impressed with the fact that this memorial is to the people who truly deserve the credit for helping to accomplish the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and later the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — people whose names and faces do not appear as the busts of the monument, but rather are represented in the faces of the men and women who do.

This monument is not about being “black” or “white” — both races are represented; as they were during the actual marches and demonstrations of the early 1960’s. Not unlike the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery where the individual soldiers are not identified or credited by name, both monuments are dedicated to their service from a grateful nation.

Citizens like Barbara Vickers and George Gardner, who got behind this project when no one was certain it could find support, deserve recognition for their contribution — as do the others who worked together to make the monument a reality. This is not a “photo opportunity” for them; as it is for some of the Johnny-come-lately luminaries; who, no doubt, see this project as a fountain of political capital.

People of character, like Nena Vreeland whose generosity and vision for this project certainly earned her “time in the limelight”, seek nothing of the sort. Those are the kind of people who deserve our support and appreciation. It takes a community of unselfish, self-sacrificing, altruistic, noble, generous and gallant people, working together, to accomplish great things. Thank you for being a part of ours.

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

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