Beaches

On Tuesday, I returned from ten days in Florida. Over the July 4th weekend my sons and daughter-in-law  were there as well. On July 4th we all took a shuttle and went to the private beach owned by the hotel we were staying at.

The rest of the time, my husband and I walked to a public beach about one mile away. All this beach going make me reflect on the tortuous history of Jim Crow and Florida beaches.  In my current manuscript I write about attempts in the 1960s to de-segregate  the public accommodations in St. Augustine, Florida. Here is an excerpt from the first draft of the sixth chapter of my book.

St. Augustine, Florida was one of the country’s most segregated cities. Beginning in 1960, it was the site of many civil rights demonstrations including students from Flagler Memorial College sitting in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter.

1965 was the 400th anniversary of St. Augustine. In preparation for the planned celebration, in 1963 the city embarked on a restoration of its downtown buildings. Vice President Lyndon Johnson was scheduled to attend the dedication ceremony for the first restored building. All the festivities were for whites only. His advisors became concerned about him attending a segregated event. The organizing committee set aside two tables in a dining alcove for local African Americans. Blacks had pushed for city officials to meet with civil rights activists as part of the festivities. This did not happen.[1]

Following this event, the activists started picketing segregated local businesses. The uptick in civil rights action led the Klu Klux Klan to descend on St. Augustine. The Klan embarked on a reign of terror. “Homes were shot up, cars set on fire, people were beaten, jobs were lost, jail sentences handed out and threats made.”[2]

The situation was becoming intractable; St. Augustine civil rights activists sought help from Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The activists sought assistance in early 1964; at the same time the U.S. Senate was engaged in the longest filibuster that body had ever seen over the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[3]

Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders sought an end to the filibuster and passage of the bill. They chose St. Augustine as a case study in the law’s necessity. Part of the proposed legislation dealt with segregated hotels, motels, and restaurants. St Augustine, a tourism site, had plenty of these establishments.[4]

Local activists choose Easter, 1964 to begin their campaign. They called for college students to spend spring break in St. Augustine; not for a vacation but to participate in sit ins and demonstrations. Four prominent Boston women came as well. When Mrs. Esther Burgess, the wife of the first black elected diocesan bishop of the Episcopal church and Mrs. Mary Peabody, mother of the Governor of Massachusetts, were arrested, the tension in St. Augustine became a national story.[5]

Mary Peabody’s arrest made it very likely that Martin Luther King would, at some point, arrive in St. Augustine.[6] He came to St. Augustine in early June, renting a beach front cottage, which was vandalized and burnt twice.[7]

On June 11, Martin Luther King, Jr. Ralph Abernathy, and eight other civil rights activists attempted to enter the Monson Motor Lodge, St. Augustine, Florida. James Brock, the motel manager stopped them at the entrance. The group refused to leave. Brock called the police who also asked King and the others to leave. They still refused and were arrested. They did not post bail and were placed in the St. Johns country jail.[8]

Two days later, Sarah Patton Boyle led a group of civil rights activists seeking service at a St. Augustine restaurant. They were all arrested. The Tampa Tribune described Boyle as the “wife of a University of Virginia professor (and the) great granddaughter of a Virginia governor and second cousin of the late General George S. Patton.[9]

After spending three nights in jail Patty, and other “white integrationists” including Reverend William England, Boston University chaplain were released on bond.[10] She was proud of being arrested. “I would rather have the voice of a civil rights jailbird than the voice of a mockingbird. That is why I announce with pride that I was one of those who went to jail for freedom in St. Augustine …. “My heartaches that such drastic action as going to jail is necessary to make America what she claims to be–a land where there is freedom and justice for all. But since it is necessary, I am proud to take full integrationist part in it. I regard my arrest as an honorary degree in the struggle to implement the principles in which I so deeply believe.”[11]

[1] https://civilrights.flagler.edu/digital/collection/p16000coll11/id/4/rec/1 Accessed 10 13 2020

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Warren, Dan

[7] Florida Room: Battle for St. Augustine 1964: Public Record and Personal Recollection Author(s): Claudia S. Slate Source: The Florida Historical Quarterly, Spring, 2006, Vol. 84, No. 4 (Spring, 2006), pp. 541-568.

[8] Tampa Tribune, June 12, 1964, pg. 1.

[9] Tampa Tribune, June 14, 1964, pg. 2.

[10] Tampa Tribune, June 17, 1964, pg. 1

[11] https://civilrights.flagler.edu/digital/collection/p16000coll11/id/4/rec/1

©Copyright Amy Mittelman 2021. Do Not Reproduce without Author’s Permission