The City of St Augustine has a problem with systemic racism and the town is run by white supremacists if you believe what you hear from Ronald Rawls of Gainesville.
Rawls commutes across three counties to find work as the pastor for St Paul’s AME Church on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue in Lincolnville; the City’s historically African American community, originally named “Little Africa”.
Rawls considers and advertises himself as a “civic leader”. Not in the way that Mark Bailey is a “civic leader”, since Rawls is not involved in the “civic” organizations that shape our community. You will not see any buildings named after Rawls, no endowments, no philanthropic heritage of giving, no participation on the Boards of Directors of St Augustine’s major charitable foundations, or substantial financial institutions. Rawls has used considerably more time to collect money from registered charities than he ever has to raise money for them. His only investment in tourism has been to disrupt it, not to develop or foster it.
Regardless of the invalidity of his claims, there is still a difference between not being a civic leader and going out of your way to be a pariah. However, Rawls performs that dance in spades. And, over the past ten years, he has demonstrated that no matter what anyone tries to do to appease him, it is never enough. Inside his head, anything bad that happens in the world is born out of racism, racists, or white supremacists. He is like a cheap media player with a skip — it’s the same song over and over and over.
In the most recent example, Rawls demanded that the City of St Augustine remove the 141-year-old memorial in the Plaza de la Constitucion that was built (and paid for) by the Ladies Memorial Association of St Augustine to honor 46 local soldiers of the American Civil War whose bodies were never returned home to their families for burial. Most, if not all, of the families, are still part of the community.
Only two years ago, City officials elicited hours and hours of public testimony, held special meetings, devoted time in regular commission meetings, and appointed a blue-ribbon citizens committee to recommend the fate of the memorial and determine a way to put the century-old memorial into a modern-day context. After months of public meetings, the city commission adopted the committee’s findings, agreeing to keep the memorial standing and to the purchase of thousands of dollars’ worth of specially designed contextualization plaques.
Using the pretext of a community emergency brought on by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while he was in police custody, Rawls returned with five new demands to assure peace in the neighborhoods of America’s Oldest City. Rawls stepped up his rhetoric, threatening not only the disruption of businesses but also the peace and safety of residential neighborhoods as violence was now “on the table” because of further inaction by city officials.
Rawls was able to corrupt two city commissioners and the mayor, who is serving out the remaining term of the re-elected mayor, Nancy Shaver, following her collapse. Rawls convinced Nancy Sikes-Kline and Leanna Freeman, both of whom were part of a unanimous 5-0 vote just two years ago when it was decided to do what we do best in St Augustine — protect and preserve the historic artifacts.
What Rawls did with Sikes-Kline and Freeman, lobbying them to look through his “black colored glasses” and then reverse; in essence, constitutes the same definition of “bribery” that he alleges against Mark Bailey. Instead of attempting to dishonor the Bailey family’s reputation, a closer reading of the law might be in order.