I was born in St Augustine and lived under segregation and integration in our schools, restaurants, and other public places. My grandfather was the first in my family to own property here — none of which included slaves.
At the risk of being called a “hater” (it won’t be the first time) I want to share with Historic City News readers something else that I “hate” — moral opportunists; people who try to capitalize on someone else’s misfortune to seize a passing moment of publicity for themselves. They are the worst. The fact that they stand on the shoulders of great men to grandstand for their own agenda is inexcusable.
The latest has been the public condemnation by a few people, many of whom are white, of the 1879 Confederate Monument in the Plaza which memorializes forty-four husbands, sons, brothers, and nephews from Saint Augustine, who died fighting for the Confederate States. What is remarkable about the monument is that it memorializes no General of the Confederacy, or any battle of the war, nor does it acknowledge any great military maneuver.
Reverend Ron Rawls, pastor of St Paul’s AME Church, the man who is instigating support to have the monument removed, still does not live in St Augustine — he, his wife and family, live two counties away, in Gainesville. He was not born until after the Civil Rights Movement in St Augustine and the activities that led to the passing of the Civil Rights Act; but, to hear him talk, you’d think he was on the front lines of a heroic battle.
Some black speakers offered comments to the city commission after a recent meeting. A few were emotional and were more compelling than those offered by speakers from as far away as Tampa, privileged white intellectuals and apologists for slavery. Most of the speakers who live in St Augustine, have done so for less than 10-years according to public records.
The almost rehearsed comment of being “traumatized” every time the speaker walked through the plaza, was repeated like a broken record. Those who came forward to speak said the obelisk reminded them of human bondage and slavery for black people. None mentioned the substantial improvements for black families who have called St Augustine home for the past 50-60 years. Just the trauma of another age, of another time. Before they came here, for the most part, or before they were born.
In addition to moral opportunists, their first-cousins, hypocrites, run a close second on my “hate list”. They all “talk out of both sides of their mouth”; however, I have known some in town who have managed to talk out of three sides.
One such example has positioned herself on the front line of one of the Civil Rights organizations (yes, there is a rift between members of the black community in St Augustine over who should be in charge of interpreting the Civil Rights Movement and making decisions for a yet to be constructed Civil Rights Museum).
Recently she and members of her group, together with employees of Northrop-Grumman who provides financing for the ACCORD Freedom Trail Project, presented a restored “slave cabin” facing the heaviest-traveled east-west route through Lincolnville. The President Emeritus, who regularly seeks free publicity for ACCORD events, and who was front-and-center for the unveiling of the slave cabin, made her way to the podium to declare her support for Rev. Rawls and his efforts to remove the memorial monument.
If you are not “traumatized” by passing a slave cabin every day that has a sign in front of it telling you it is a slave cabin (there are arguments about its authenticity) then how in God’s name are you traumatized by the 1879 Confederate Monument?