St. Augustine’s Civil Rights Story
In the 1960s, St. Johns County’s African-American community played a dramatic role in the American Civil Rights movement. Attracting participation from Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, local actions gained a national audience. Vice President Lyndon Johnson had visited St. Augustine on March 11, 1963, as part of the 450th anniversary of Ponce de Leon’s exploration of La Florida and the announcement of the upcoming 400th anniversary of St. Augustine’s founding. As typical throughout the South, St. Augustine and Florida were segregated. African-Americans were excluded from the celebrations. Peaceful protests took place throughout the downtown and surrounding the Plaza de la Constitución. The protests turned violent encouraged by participation from the Ku Klux Klan. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested. Andrew Young was beaten. By this time, Johnson was President. He watched the events unfold on national television, incensing him to demand passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Nearly half a century later, in 2010, Young returned to St. Augustine at the invitation of Flagler College coed Jillian McClure. This led to several visits by Ambassador Young and a series of community healing activities. In 2014, the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Ambassador Young returned a final time, serving as Flagler College’s Commencement speaker.
Today, you can experience some of the physical reminders of this era by visiting the Plaza, walking along the Andrew Young Crossing and over to the Foot Soldiers Monument. Across King Street is the former Woolworth’s Department Store. There, the restored lunch counter is the central feature of an exhibition in the Wells-Fargo Bank lobby.
ACCORD Civil Rights Museum, 79 Bridge Street
African-Americans in St. Augustine played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights movement, and the ACCORD Civil Rights Museum documents parts of this story. ACCORD, of the Anniversary to Commemorate the Civil Rights Demonstrations, began nearly 20 years ago, to ensure that this chapter in the city’s and nation’s history was presented. A partnership with Northrup Grumman Corporation led to creation of the Freedom Trail, and a series of markers have been erected throughout the community. The annual ACCORD Freedom Trail Luncheon speakers have featured Congressman John Lewis in 2010 and Ambassador Andrew Young in 2011.
For more on black heritage in St. Augustine, click here.