To a visitor here, St. Augustine, FL appears a tranquil historical settlement by the sea. Claiming to be “America’s Oldest City,” I always raise objections to that and inform claimants of that mis-fact about the 2,000 year old pueblos out in the West, especially of the Hopis on the Black Mesa in Arizona. Nevertheless, tourists come, sometimes by the millions, and each of them today only thinks about enjoying themselves on our wide clean beaches, or take informational trolley rides through the streets here—that once ran with bloodshed I only found out about last night.
in the summer of 1964 a violent confrontation took place in downtown St. Augustine, one that propelled the swift passage of the Civil Rights Bill that had been stuck for months in Congress, due to nonstop filibustering proclaiming calls for segregation, still, by misguided southern Senators that unfortunately postponed the passage of this historic human rights bill during that era. Gathering to see his new film, “Crossing in St. Augustine,” a rapt audience listened to the story narrated by former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, one of my childhood heros. I was only 16 at the time of the events shown in the raw, emotional footage expertly edited by CB Hackworth in this edge-of-your-seat documentary.
Organized by local dentist at the time, Dr. RB Hayling, the first dentist elected to Florida American Dental Association, the growing number of brave, peacefully-demonstrating-for-their-rights-blacks of St. Augustine stood fast against the increasing wave of hateful actions, taunting torments, and unspeakably horrible violence prepetrated against them because of mass rallies held in the downtown old “slave market,” which were led by extreme Christian racists, the KKK, and even the police. The entire audience gasped in disbelief when we learned that the sheriff of St. John’s County back then, was so misguided and hateful as to deputize members of the KKK to “enforce” peace by brutalizing any blacks who dared to do anything out of the limits of legal segregation. Young’s documentary shows how the blacks organized a walk “to cross” from their section of town, euphemistically named “Lincolnville,” to the town square, where an agitated mob waited for them at the slave market, wanting “blood and black heads to roll, and black flesh to burn.” This film, all true, was a horrific insight into what hatred can make a human being commit.
Andrew Young, as King’s lieutenant in the civil rights movement that was gathering steam across the nation, particularly in the South at the time, had been sent to St. Augustine to organize Hayling’s committed protesters, even though they faced being hit by chains, their homes bombed, their persons spit upon, jailed—even killed. Hayling himself had been brutally beaten by the KKK, his house shot into, narrowly missing his wife, his thriving dental practice ruined, and his dog slain. On screen we saw a thirty-ish Young being beaten at the “Crossing” event, his assault vividly captured. As the audience watched this noble, elegant elderly stateman of today being kicked in the head by three hate-poisoned men as he curled into a fetal poisition on the asphalt, Andrew Young spoke on the film’s narration that he never knew to what extent he’d been assaulted until he saw, in 2006, the forgotten film footage of his beating in St. Augustine. “And then I got mad!” Young’s voice said to us last night at Flagler College’s Auditorium where he showed his latest film.
I don’t doubt that hardly any of us folks, whites, blacks and other ethnicities, who sat in the audience last night knew of the horrors that happened that hot summer July in 1964. But when we were shown the truth, gasps were heard everywhere , erect backs were seen, and smarting hot tears could be felt throughout the breathless audience.
St. Augustine was the place where Martin Luther King decided to come, had to come, after such brutal violence forced the non-violent movement of civil rights demonstrators, sympathetic whites and blacks, to gather here, to proclaim what was happening in St. Augustine as unjust, inhumane, and and un-Godly. To a menacing crowd of club and chain-swinging, Negro-hating racists, the crowd of non-violent marchers sang, “We Love Everybody.” And even though they shook with fear, and some did take blows that cracked black and white skulls, bloodied everybody, and knocked out teeth….nobody….not one demonstrator….FOUGHT BACK. Encouraged by the leadership of Dr. Hayling, King and Young, sympathizers had come to St. Augustine from all over the States to join forces against the boiling anger of the equally gathering KKK, hate-spewing extremist Christians from all over the country, and diehard generic racists who came to this tiny historic town for a showdown of human rights, blacks against whites, hatred and love.
Disguised as a KKK, a sympathetic pretend-racist taped what was happening and phoned first the Florida governor to report of the murderous mayhem happening right THEN, and the people who were about to be killed in St. Augustine’s square. The Florida Governor immediately called Washington, DC. …. and spoke directly to President Lyndon Johnson. When the President realized what was happening he took action against the long-winded, months-long filibustering against the Civil Rights Bill going on in Congress at that exact time and, without hesitation used his executive powers as head of State to enforce his influence. The Civil Rights Act was immediately signed by Johnson—directly BECAUSE of the people’s non-violent protest in the racial war that had erupted that moment, right HERE, in my hometown of St. Augustine.
After the documentary was over, and the standing ovation settled down, all my friends and I were moved when Andrew Young, in his closing remarks, praised ALL the people who had been involved in this historic confrontation of good and evil. Even the racist whites, Young said, even the hapless businessman who rushed to pour acid in his swimming pool in a desperate attempt to get protesting blacks and whites out of his strickly segregated motel pool—-ALL players in this heart-rending drama, Young said, should be proclaimed as equally pivotal—equally instrumental—because good or bad, they helped each other to become today’s better, higher versions of themselves, blacks and whites. We ALL end up being better people because of what happened here in 1964, Young reminded us. Andrew Young spoke such compassionate words, ones I’ve only heard in the Bible and other scriptures I study, and when the Dalai Lama said about the Chinese communists who have slaughtered thousands of his fellow Tibetans: I hold no malice to my enemies. We are all in this together.
And….even though my mother has lived here for 30 years, and I’ve been visiting, have had friends here for decades, and am involved with the nature-loving, arts, spiritual, recovery, consciousness-raising and environmental communities here—never have I heard one whisper mentioned among any of my many associates here in this pristine gem of a town, of events that occurred here in the summer of 1964. Yes, even an entire town can keep its secrets close to its heart. But no more! I doubt hardly any person in the audience last night, who hadn’t been directly involved, even knew of the extent of what happened almost 50 years ago, right here, just a few blocks from where we sat watching Young’s documentary.
The denial of the truth, in order to run a smooth tourist-town, one that functions almost entirely from revenue generated by St. Augustine’s clean, clearly FUN FUN FUN appearance—is now being forced to face the truth of its past.
The Truth shall set us FREE.
It’s always better to be truthful, no matter what our “sin” may be. I don’t like this word, sin. But….some of us are stained with our past actions. And to be free of whatever weighs on us, we must allow our transgressions to come to the surface of our awareness, share them with others, humbly, make amends as best we can, and allow our hearts to soar free as our human experience is meant to be. We are ONE.
in the Light, lordflea
for those of you interested in more information about Andrew Young and his work:
Andrew Young Presents, the syndicated television series launched by former Atlanta Mayor and United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young won 2 Emmy’s yesterday at the 2009 Southeast Regional Emmy Awards. Ambassador Young was also awarded the prestigious Governor’s Award by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
“In the Civil Rights Movement, it was our ability to package a message to illustrate our cause in a 60 second segment on the evening news that was key to our success. We could not have been effective without television.” said Ambassador Young accepting the Governor’s Award.
Andrew Young and CB Hackworth won an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement: Television Crafts Achievement Excellence- Writer- Program (Non News) for Walking with Guns, featuring Clifford “T.I.” Harris, one of the world’s most popular Hip Hop artists. The film is about the tragedy of gun violence, the hope of redemption, and a famous Hip Hop artist coming to term with his troubled past.
Andrew Young, CB Hackworth, Chris Tucker and Dan McCain won an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement: Television Programming Excellence- Magazine Program for Chris Tucker in Africa.
Three years a ago, Ambassador Andrew Young began to create documentaries to share his vision of our possibilities with an international audience. Since then, the Emmy-winning Andrew Young Presents has produced six (6) one hour documentaries that have been syndicated by Sewee Entertainment (see-we) in nearly 100 television markets reaching 80% of all U.S. households. Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Civil Rights and non-violence have been topics of the series.
Andrew Young Presents is a project of the Andrew J. Young Foundation, Inc. The Andrew Young Foundation works to transform the way we understand our people, our global community and our possibilities. www.andrewyoung.org www.andrewyoungpresents.com www.sewee.net
One thought on “Things are never what they seem”
This was completely moving, upsetting & informative. Well written. Thoughtful. Thanks for passing on this important historical event. Never forget.