For well over fifty-years, the residents of St Augustine have been healing from the physical and emotional wounds of the civil rights movement; in no small part due to the media focus on racial segregation and the economic plight of minorities here — and across the south.
Although St Augustine had no monopoly on these social ills, in the mid 1960’s, we did have cameramen from CBS and writers from the Associated Press and United Press International who were reporting daily from sites that would become known as landmarks in the movement.
Landmarks arguably at least as significant as those in St Augustine, probably more so, can be found in Alabama and other states before anyone had ever heard of St Augustine, Florida. A couple of such examples (there are dozens) include:
- Rosa Parks Bus Boycott Montgomery, Alabama, Dec. 1, 1955
- Woolworth lunch counter Greensboro, North Carolina, February 1, 1960
- National Mall “I have a dream speech”, Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963
- 16th Street Baptist Church Birmingham, Alabama, September 15, 1963
- March from Selma-to-Montgomery, Alabama, March 17, 1965
- Dr M.L. King shot Lorraine Hotel Memphis, Tennessee, April 4, 1968
St Augustine and St Johns County began the healing process after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and later the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The signs of integration of our schools signaled an end to racial separation and discrimination in how we work, live and do business with each other. It was an end to an era not likely to reappear, however, change comes slowly and rebuilding new ways of thinking, even more slowly.
That said, through a commitment of our residents to make improvements, we continue to make progress. And, for any of us who lived here during those times, like Historic City News editor Michael Gold, the contrast between now and then is as clear as black and white.
Gold wrote that his fear is that what good has been accumulated to the benefit of all minorities, regardless of race or color, could be destroyed by those who are too young to remember; and, who only know our place in history by what someone else has told them. “They haven’t taken the time to acquire the discipline needed to act intelligently and didn’t learn the lessons of Dr. King and others who led the way and set examples using peaceful means to further the cause of civil rights.”
At issue recently has been the antics of Gainesville resident and race-baiter Ronald Rawls, Jr. Using resources that are the property of the trustees of St Paul AME Church, Rawls has led his own crusade against historic memorials; one of which is property of the City of St Augustine, claiming the two obelisks are “racist”. Likewise, if you don’t agree with Rawls’ opinion, you, too, are “racist”. Further, and even more incendiary, if you are one of the 13% minority residing in our community who is black, you are still a slave, “serving master on the plantation”.
Many we’ve talked to, including some who attend his church, are having a problem reconciling Rawls’ actions to their Christian beliefs. Two members of the traditionally black church, who happen to be white, said they are looking for another church because of Rawls’ un-tempered behavior. They told local reporters that they no longer feel welcome in the church that advertises “No matter where you have been, where you are, or where you are going, there is a place for you at St. Paul AME Church”.