Origins of the St. Augustine Movement
JUNE 1963. Dr. Robert Hayling, a black dentist in St. Augustine, organized the Youth Council of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). They began street protests in front of Woolworths on King Street, in front of the Plaza. They carried signs that asked "If We Spend Money Here Why Can't we Eat Here?"
JULY 1963. A "sit-in" at a local Woolworth's Department Store (young people sat down on the stools of the lunch counter and asked for service, refusing to leave when told to do so) led to the arrest of 16 young blacks, including 7 juveniles. The county judge, Charles Mathis, told the parents of the juveniles he would release the children into their custody only if they pledged to keep them away from further demonstrations. The parents of three of the children agreed; the others said "no." Mathis then sent the four young people to state reform school where they remained for six months.
SEPTEMBER 1963. Anger at such treatment of their children brought on the first mass demonstration which protested the city commission's refusal to appoint a biracial commission to discuss the problems of race relations in the city.
In that same month, the Ku Klux Klan, an organization of white segregationists, held a rally outside of town. Dr. Hayling and three others tried to observe the rally, were seen, seized, beaten, and saved from being burned to death only at the last minute. Dr. Hayling and others continued their efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution, with no success.
FEBRUARY 1964. Local segregationists fired a shotgun into Dr. Hayling's home, narrowly missing his wife and children, killing his dog.
MARCH 1964. Dr. Hayling, Henry and Katherine Twine, and other local civil rights leaders, asked Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his organization — the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) — to come to St. Augustine to help.
St. Augustine, SCLC, and Dr. King
APRIL 1964. Dr. King and SCLC, fearing the proposed Civil Rights Bill being filibustered in the U.S. Senate would be defeated, decided to come to St. Augustine and make a stand here. He rallied northen supporters to come and help. Two of these supporters who came were Mrs. Malcolm Peabody, the mother of the governor of Massachusetts and Mrs. John Burgess, wife of the Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts. The two women joined a sit-in at the Ponce de Leon Restaurant, led by Dr. Hayling along with other blacks, requesting service, and refusing to leave. Their arrest and jailing brought national attention to St. Augustine. All of the major newspapers of the nation as well as television and radio stations began to cover events here and broadcast them to the nation and the world.
MAY-JUNE 1964. Among the activities told to the world: Dr. King spoke in local churches, rallying supporters and teaching his methods of non-violent resistance. No matter how demonstrators were abused, beaten, or verbally assaulted, they were not to fight back nor resist arrest in any way. Click HERE to hear Jackie Robinson, baseball great and Rev. CT Vivian, SCLC leader encouraging the young demonstrators, June 15th, 1964.
Nightly marches down King Street, around the Plaza and the "Slave Market" and back up King street were met by white segregationist and verbal and physical assault on the marchers and resulted in hundreds of arrests and jail sentences (of marchers only). The City banned the night marches and ordered large bonds of $1500 to $3000 be paid to be released from jail. There were so many demonstrators in the jail — both local people and others who had come to help, both black and white, — that there was no room in the jail, and people were kept in a stockade during the day, in the hot sun with no shade.
Mrs. Katherine Twine, who came to be known as the "Rosa Parks of St. Augustine " for her leadership in the movement, was arrested so many times that she began to carry a large-brimmed hat which she called her "Freedom Hat" with her whenever she thought she would be arrested in order to have some shade from the sun in that stockade. The hat had "Freedom Now" printed on it and a button from the 1963 March on Washington, and has been preserved as a precious artifact of those times. Young and old, black and white shared the dangers of the marches, the assaults and the jails.
Attempts were made to integrate the beaches of Anastasia Island — demonstrators were driven into the water by police and segregationists, some could not swim and had to be saved from drowning by other demonstrators.
A small group of women attempted to enter a white church on King Street on a Sunday morning, wishing to take part in the service. They were met by a group of whites, arms linked together to prevent them from worshiping with them.
St. Augustine & Passage of the Civil Rights Bill
JUNE 9, 1964. Federal Court Judge Simpson signed orders reducing the amount of bonds that could be imposed on arrested demonstrators to $100, limited the length of jail terms, and declared night marches to be legal. Local officials were ordered to allow the marches and keep order.
JUNE 10, 1964. The constant coverage of the nightly marches and assaults in the nation's news media brought on a vote in the United States Senate to invoke "cloture" — the vote to end the filibuster. The way was now clear to pass the Civil Rights Bill, after each senator had been given a chance to speak to it. It was the courage and determination of the demonstrators in St. Augustine that had finally convinced the people of the United States that segregation must end.
But on that night, despite Judge Simpson's orders, the nightly march was met by an angry crowd of more than 100 white men who broke through police lines and attacked the marchers.
JUNE 11, 1964. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Kathryn Fentress, and other members of the SCLC were arrested and jailed for trying to eat lunch at the Monson Motel Restaurant on the bay-front in town.
JUNE 18, 1964. A group of black and white protesters jumped into the swimming pool at the Monson Motel — the resultant photographs of the owner pouring muriatic acid into the pool and a policeman jumping into the pool to arrest them were broadcast around the world — and became some of the most famous images of the entire Civil Rights Movement.
JUNE 19, 1964. The United States Senate passed the Civil Rights Act, outlawing segregation in all public places and facilities. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bill into law on July 2, 1964.
Aftermath of the St. Augustine Movement
SUMMER OF 1964 IN ST. AUGUSTINE. Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act, there was still strong resistance in St. Augustine to implementing its provisions and further demonstrations and violence continued. But such resistance was doomed. The law of the land would prevail in time.
Many of the demonstrators lost their jobs because they asked for their basic human rights, many were physically assaulted, some lost their homes. Each night they had to face their fears and agree to once again march down King Street.
But they prevailed. Not only the city of St. Augustine and all of its residents, no matter their color, are the better for it, but the entire nation is indebted to them. Their courageous actions had a direct impact on the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These brave people deserve our respect, and our thanks.