By Ashley Goodman | email@example.com
Photo by Ashley Goodman
Sitting around with the older black men who congregate on the corner of South Street and hearing their stories makes you realize that the neighborhood was once a different place.
On most days, Chris White, 62, sits on the sidewalk in front of his house with friends, some who have lived in Lincolnville for as long as he has. Their conversation often shifts towards how it used to be.
White has lived in the same house for 47 years. He grew up on Bernard Street before moving to Lincolnville when he was 14 and recalls most of the people who lived there as family.
“It was a personal village. It was in my recollection, ideal. I couldn’t imagine growing up any place else,” White said.
After White moved to Lincolnville, civil rights demonstrations were just heating up. White’s house was bombed several times, but in the midst of the upheaval, White describes things as being calm for what they were.
When Dr. Martin Luther King arrived in St. Augustine to protest for civil rights in early June of 1964, White remembers walking down Bridge Street with King and having a conversation about his mother.
“He thought she was too feisty,” White said. “She offered to fight the Grand Dragon in the Federal Courthouse.”
For White, Dr. King’s visit solidified everything he was trying to prevent: violence and intimidation.
“It was a sure support for what we were trying to do here. He took the time to accomplish what he needed to,” White said.
White’s family played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement and was a unifying force in Lincolnville. His brother, the late Samuel White, was part of the St. Augustine Four, the group of young men and women who were arrested for ordering a meal at a Woolworth’s in downtown St. Augustine. Now, White is the only member of his family that still resides in Lincolnville.
A Changing Community
White describes Lincolnville as a much different environment than it was when he grew up. Although the streets look the same, the sense of unity isn’t there anymore.
“People don’t know their neighbors. They don’t have a wish to,” White said. “It was different when we were growing up. People depended on their neighbors.”
White recalls the streets being full of children when he was younger. Now they have seemed to disappear.
“We don’t even have kids in Lincolnville anymore. I don’t know if people stopped producing them or what. Every Christmas the streets are just bare,” White said.
Washington Street used to be full of businesses in the 1970s. A theater, pool rooms and several restaurants lined the street that now has just a few homes, a homeless shelter and a daycare.
Before integration, there were thriving businesses in Lincolnville, including a doctor’s office, a taxi company, bars and even three grocery stores. These businesses died off largely because of owners passing away and younger residents graduating, growing up and leaving Lincolnville.
“People went out into the world and very few came back,” White said.
White himself has moved out of Lincolnville several times. He has lived in New Jersey, Miami and, most recently, Texas.But he always felt pulled back to the community where he grew up.
“I looked in the mirror one day and realized it was time to come home,” White said.
Besides lacking a strong community, Lincolnville, like many other communities across the U.S., is going through a serious conflict: gentrification. Gentrification is typically associated with an increase in income, rising home prices which, in turn, force poorer residents to move out. This has been going on for decades in Lincolnville and there is little chance of it stopping anytime soon.
Additionally, Flagler College students have rented neighborhood homes that once belonged to long-term residents.
“Unfortunately, college students were able to pay more than the people who were living here. That caused the price of living to skyrocket,” White said.
In the next 20 years, White predicts one of the oldest black communities in the U.S. being completely phased out.
“I don’t know if anyone else is upset about it, but it seems like it’s an unstoppable process at this point,” White said.
Like many other Lincolnville residents, White fears that he will have to sell his house in the coming years, which he credits with defining who he is.
“I would feel as if I cut off a part of myself if I had to sell this house, but it’s coming down to it. I can’t afford it,” White said.
White plans to hang on to his home as long as he can, but senses Lincolnville will become part of the commercial structure in only a matter of time.
Although Lincolnville has lost the feeling of a close-knit community, you can paint a picture in your head of what it was like back in the day when you’re around White and his friends. They are the only remaining lifeline Lincolnville has left. It’s sickening to think that one day they will all be gone.