Guest Column: Thankful at Thanksgiving
St Augustine, FL
Thankful at Thanksgiving, we look back into the past.
450 years ago, in 1565, St. Augustine’s diverse, polyglot Spanish colonial residents had already enjoyed America’s first Thanksgiving; feted by the Timucuan residents of Seloy village long before Plymouth was founded. As University of Florida’s Dr. Michael Gannon writes, “St. Augustine was already up for urban renewal”.
We’re thankful that our 450th anniversary celebration helped spread greater understanding, and promoted healing. Our Spanish, English, French, Native American, African-American, Menorcan, Greek, Italian, Jewish, Gay, Civil War and Civil Rights histories must be told better, with National Park Service interpretation. We will be thankful when Congress enacts the St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore first proposed by Mayor Walter Fraser in 1939.
Some 238 years ago, in 1777, about 700 surviving Menorcan settlers of the British New Smyrna colony “voted with their feet”, walking the 60-miles north to St. Augustine. We’re thankful for their courage and persistence in keeping their history, culture and cuisine alive.
Some 150 years ago, in 1865, freed African-American slaves were establishing Lincolnville (Little Africa), the first community established by freed slaves. We’re thankful for the African-Americans here and looking forward to their full integration into our economy and political life.
Nearly 100 years ago, in 1916, Congress created the National Park Service. Our 400 national parks have been called “America’s Best Idea” and we are thankful for the National Park Service presence in our community. We look forward to expanding, protecting what we love for your grandchildren and their grandchildren, and protecting our communities, wetlands, beaches, forests, and you from climate change calamity.
Some 51 years ago, in 1964, St. Augustine residents and visitors helped expose the truth of Jim Crow segregation, not resting until President Lyndon Johnson broke a U.S. Senate filibuster and won adoption of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a model for laws passed around the nation and the globe, expanded to cover new protected classes, including Gays, Lesbians, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) people, as well as employee “whistleblowers,” or “ethical resisters.
We’re thankful for all who have stood up for truth, justice and equality. Many like Dr. Robert S. Hayling, D.D.S., the St. Augustine Four, the St. Augustine Movement, Dr. Franklin Kameny, and U.S. Reps. Don Edwards and Fr. Robert Drinan, S.J., are not yet household words, but may be when NPS co-sponsors a National Civil Rights Museum here.
We’re thankful that civil rights laws inexorably led to the Supreme Court’s landmark Gay marriage decision in June 2015. I am thankful I can now legally marry. We’re thankful for all the whistleblowers who report wrongdoing, starting with A. Ernest Fitzgerald, the Pentagon cost analyst who testified truthfully about C-5A airplane cost overruns, leading to his landmark Supreme Court victory after Richard Nixon fired him for not being a “team player,” management argot for someone considered too honest. As African-American poet Langston Hughes wrote, “Let America be America again.”
A year ago, in 2014, we elected Mayor Nancy Shaver. Yes, we did! We’re thankful for her triumph over mendacity and mediocrity. We’re thankful for her listening to people and neighborhoods, and for her wit, energy and spirit. We need more can-do government officials.
We’ll be thankful next year, when elections bring us more reformers, including candidates for City and County Commissioners, Sheriff, State’s Attorney. Congress and U.S. Senate. JFK said, “Sometimes party labels demand too much.” This is not about elephants or donkeys or shibboleths: we must crush corruption.
As Rev. John Winthrop preached on board the Mayflower in 1630, let’s be a “shining city on a hill”.