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Saint Augustine, Florida  
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The St. Augustine Four


The civil rights movement brought forth many heroes who set an example for America and the world. Some were old. Some were middleaged. Some were young. Among the youngest of those heroes of the 1960s were "The St. Augustine Four": Audrey Nell Edwards, JoeAnn Anderson Ulmer, Willie Carl Singleton, and Samuel White.

Young people formed the shock troops of the civil rights movement, and many efforts were made to suppress them. One of the most discreditable legal efforts in this regard took place in St. Augustine, Florida in July 1963 when a local judge tried to force young teenagers who had been arrested for trying to order a hamburger at the “whitesonly” lunch counter of the local Woolworth’s to promise that they would take part in no more demonstrations. They were also pressured to say that movement organizer Dr. Robert Hayling was guilty of contributing to the delinquency of minors. Had they done so, said Dr. Hayling, "my goose would have been cooked”.

Several others were arrested that day, and some were intimidated by the judge. But the St. Augustine Four, with the support of their families, refused to go along with this injustice. So the judge had them first jailed, then sent to reform schools in Marianna and Lowell. When NAACP lawyer Earl Johnson of Jacksonville attempted to get them released, the judge claimed that they were beyond the jurisdiction of the legal system.  National newspapers like the Pittsburgh Courier and The New York Times wrote about the case of the St. Augustine Four. It finally took a special action of the Florida governor and cabinet to get them released in January 1964 after they had missed Thanksgiving and Christmas at home with their families.

Martin Luther King called them “my warriors.” Jackie Robinson praised them for their courage — and he was certainly someone who knew about courage! Robinson and his wife took Audrey Nell Edwards and JoeAnn Anderson to their home in Connecticut to recover from their ordeal. The two St. Augustinians can still remember going to the New York World’s Fair of 1964 with Jackie Robinson. It took four decades without amends being made, or honor being given where honor was due, but finally in 2004 a proper tribute was paid to the St. Augustine Four, in a ceremony sponsored by ACCORD at the First Baptist Church, a great historic civil rights landmark on St. Francis Street. The three surviving members of the St. Augustine Four (and their families) attended, along with relatives of the fourth, the late Willie Carl
Singleton. Gifts were sent to each of them by Mrs. Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson.  In 2007 when Samuel White of the St. Augustine Four passed away, his death was front page news in the St. Augustine Record, and his funeral was held in the same historic church building.  The St. Augustine Four are heroes of the freedom movement whose sacrifices should never be forgotten.

 — Copyright © 2007, David Nolan

Co-Chair & Historian, ACCORD Freedom Trail



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