In the spring of 1964, as St. Augustine, Florida, prepared to celebrate its 400th anniversary, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) launched a massive campaign supporting the small local movement to end racial discrimination in the nation’s oldest city. King hoped that demonstrations there would lead to local desegregation and that media attention would garner national support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was then stalled in a congressional fillibuster. ~MLK, Stanford.edu
This weekend, the St. Augustine Community Orchestra will premiere a newly commissioned orchestra piece by their writer in residence, Bob Moore.
This work reflects on the events that happened in June of 1964 in the city of St. Augustine, Florida during the height of the battle for civil rights. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. along with Andrew Young and others were invited to the city to help organize demonstrations.
Demonstrations were happening all over the South, but St. Augustine was particularly troublesome. The Klan had exerted its presence and local law enforcement was turning a blind eye. Sit-ins at local lunch counters had begun in 1960, and the local blacks who staged the sit-ins were often arrested. Some teens were sentenced to reform schools.
The Klan continued to exert pressure and influence. Drive-by shootings in the black neighborhood of Lincolnville happened with regularity. When four local black civil rights activists went out to observe a Klan rally, they were captured and beaten, stacked like firewood to be set on fire. The FBI and the Governor were called and sent the Sheriff to intervene before the men were killed.
The violence continued un-checked despite the appeals to local and state officials. A group of black St. Augustine residents drove to Orlando to directly appeal to Dr King to help the blacks in St. Augustine.
Dr. King’s visit in June resulted in more peaceful protests by civil rights supporters, and more violence and arrests, including Dr. King.
Protesters marched around the Slave Market, tried to gain entrance to hotel pools and the local “whites only” beach. Photos were splashed in papers around the world as news cameras captured the violence.
After Lyndon Johnson saw the photo of a local hotel manager pouring muriatic acid into a pool filled with black and white protesters, the gridlock in Congress was removed. The Civil Rights Act was signed into law.
Many who participated in the marches in June 1964 lost their jobs, and were forced to leave the city in search of work. Those who stayed saw change come slowly to the sleepy little town.
For years afterwards, St. Augustine continued to resist integration, with the exception of local schools. The timeline to integrate schools was rolled out with minimal protest.