“On a hot night in June,
Marching towards the light,
marching to the freedom,
they were promised long ago. ~annettealaine 2013
I moved to Florida from Maryland in 1976. I knew almost nothing of the South, although I later learned my family had strong Southern roots from generations of relatives on both sides of the family.
I moved to St. Augustine in the fall of 1982 to attend Flagler College, then a small, private college. Most of the students were transplants- heavily recruited from Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states. Promises of perfect weather, and the surf, attracted these students much in the same way Henry Flagler himself, drew the winter weary elite to his oppulent hotel one hundred years earlier.
I stayed in St. Augustine following graduation, and began working at a local school on the west side of town- literally on the other side of the Florida East Coast railway tracks. From locals who populated these small neighborhoods I heard stories of the other St. Augustine. The town that was still deeply divided between white and black.
The Minorcans (descendants of the earliest white settlers after the Pedro Menedez founded the city), called the city square “the Spanish market.” The local African American community knew it by a different name: The Slave Market.
That was just the tip of the iceberg. I found out that the struggle for Civil Rights extended all the way to St. Augustine Florida by the summer of 1964.
Lincolnville was the dividing line between the white and black community, just two blocks from Flagler’s grand hotels. Three blocks from the Slave Market. Four blocks from the Woolworths and McCrory’s where Negroes were not allowed to sit at the lunch counter.
The lines were invisible, but distinct to every local. Lincolnville was a thriving community with churches, shops, dentists, and doctors. They worshipped, shopped and socialized with style. They even went to the beach for picnics and swimming, but again, the line in the sand separated a couple of blocks of the Atlantic Ocean for blacks to use.
When the fight for Civil Rights began, Dr. Robert B. Hayling, the first black dentist to be elected to local, state and national American Dental Associations, spearheaded the campaign to bring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and the Southern Christian Leadership team to St. Augustine to shine a spotlight on the many injustices that blacks suffered in the city.
On a hot evening in June, Dr. King, Andrew Young, local members of the St. Augustine SCLC, white and black citiziens, all marched to the Slave Market in peaceful protest. They were confronted with angry white citizens, and an apathetic local law enforcement squad, who turned a blind eye to the ensuing violence, and often participated with their own billy clubs, fists and boots to force the marchers to flee in fear for their lives.
For weeks the marches continued, as did the sit-ins at the local Woolworth’s lunch counter, and the integration of St. Augustine Beach. Driven off with chains, fists, and guns, they re-grouped and returned day and night to march peacefully.
Dr. King was arrested and sent to the local jail. Others were jailed and beaten by local law enforcement. The Florida Highway Patrol was called in to assist and protect the marchers from the violence.
Newspapers across the country splashed pictures of the struggle. The most famous photo was of a local motel owner who poured muriatic acid into a pool full of protesters- white and black.
The nation’s eyes were opened with those photos and the stories of violence. Growing support for the Civil Rights bill brought its passage in 1964. The St. Augustine movement is credited for tipping the scales towards its eventual passage.
Fifty years later, St. Augustine has acknowledged its role as both provacator; a place where civil rights were denied for years. The trolley cars that shuttle tourists around the ancient city refer to the Slave Market, the former Woolworth’s and Lincolnville as part of the historic overview of the city.
Next week, during the Martin Luther King, Jr holiday weekend, the St. Augustine Community Orchestra will offer a preview of an orchestral work by composer Bob Moore. The three movement include a choral solo that recalls the struggles during the hot summer in June 1964.
The text is taken from “I’ll Overcome Someday”, by African- American composer Charles Albert Tindley, and the poem: Marching Towards the Light: One Summer in June 1964.
The composer approached me last summer to write a poem based on the events of June 1964. After extensive research, I created a poem that I am very proud to have penned. I allowed the composer to fit my words to the music, and the result is raw and powerful.
I have agreed to publish the poem to coincide with the premiere next weekend. The concert dates for the performances are February 28- March 2nd in St. Augustine, and Ponte Vedra Florida.
To learn more about the performance: staugustineorchestra.org,
To visit the composer’s page: http://www.bobmooremusic.com
To learn more about the civil rights struggle in St. Augustine: http://floridamemory.com/blog
Link to the poem (published 1/19/2014): annettealaine.com