St. Augustine, Florida, America’s oldest city, was once a battleground for civil rights. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his supporters were harassed, beaten and jailed when they tried to enter segregated downtown restaurants and swim in segregated sections of St. Augustine’s beaches. A hotel manager once poured acid into a pool where both black and white integrationists were swimming in protest. Dr. King was even in St. Augustine the day that the Senate passed the civil rights bill on June 19, 1964.
This quaint coastal town with its horse carriage rides and sailboats resting quietly in marinas may once again become a battleground for civil rights. Some believe that it has already, especially with the debate over whether or not to tear down Confederate monuments in the downtown Plaza de la Constitución that’s heated up in recent months.
City commissioners voted to “contextualize” the monuments, deciding to leave them in place and adding historical context to them to tell a more complete history.
Bringing St. Augustine back into the civil rights discussion is exactly what Daniel Carter, Jr., 20, hoped to do when he organized the Unity March Against the Repression of a Generation. On Oct. 22, 2017, the National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality, Carter led a group of around 30 people on a march through downtown St. Augustine. This was the first ever protest in the nation’s oldest city organized by the Black Lives Matter movement.
The rally gathered peacefully at the pavilion in the Plaza de la Constitución, which was historically a slave market. The pavilion has been a site of protest for both white supremacists and civil rights advocates going back over 50 years.
“I am black, I do live in America, I do have to deal with what we see every day going on in our country,” Carter said. “And I saw nobody else was making a big deal about it in St. Augustine. If it’s not happening at your back door, then we don’t worry about it, and so I thought that St. Augustine should definitely have a face with Black Lives Matter, and that we should come together and speak out against any white supremacy and let people know it’s not welcome in in our town.”
The movement Carter plans to start in St. Augustine will be similar to what Dr. King hoped to have in the 1960s: peaceful demonstrations, more participation in St. Augustine politics and focus on open-minded dialogue with the St. Augustine Police Department. Carter wants to eventually spark change in the way the United States designs its police forces.
“When I see a cop, I’m terrified. I don’t feel safe at all. Militarization of our police departments is a big issue. They do need to be disarmed and demilitarized now,” Carter said. “We’ve sat down with the St. Augustine Police Department … to have conversations and connect and talk about the issues and not be angry and upset about it.”