“We Will Tread”: The fight against St. Augustine’s Confederate monuments

By Katherine Lewin | gargoyle@flagler.edu

The fight to remove confederate-era monuments has settled securely into St. Augustine, Florida, the ancient seaside town that also hosted a civil rights movement in the 1960s. The modern movement is led largely by Rev. Ron Rawls. Rawls is the pastor of the St. Paul AME Church in historic Lincolnville, which was often used as a meeting place in the 1960s for the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his supporters.

On Nov. 18, it was chosen as the starting point for a rally to remove the confederate-era monuments in downtown St. Augustine. Over 100 people marched from St. Paul AME church to the Plaza de la Constitución.

Rev. Ron Rawls poses for a photo with other protesters just before the march begins. The march was planned for Light Up! Night, kicking off Nights of Lights. It is one of the biggest events in St. Augustine every year, drawing thousands of people into its downtown area.

A member of the New Black Panther Party and Black Educators for Justice speaks with reporters before the march.

A protestor stands with his sign before the march. A variety of social groups were present at the rally, from LGBTQ to the Women’s March.

Rawls speaks into his phone as the march begins. Rawls recorded it in entirety on Facebook live.

Keeyana Singleton, a local medical professional, marches silently. The walk to the Plaza de la Constitución was peaceful, though with most of the over 100 protesters chanting, it wasn’t quiet.

St. Augustine Police guide the protesters into downtown as it becomes more and more crowded the closer it gets to the main event – turning on around 3 million Christmas lights at the same time.

St. Augustine’s Christmas lights display was rated one of the top five in the world by National Geographic. With the recognition from National Geographic, St. Augustine’s tourism industry has seen a significant increase in the holiday months.

The protestors chanted over the live band and while the mayor of St. Augustine, Nancy Shaver, spoke. They were ignored by the band and Mayor Shaver, but many people attending the Light Up! event were dismayed to find themselves in the middle of a protest.

One of two male provocateurs holds up his hat. His hat said that “Ron Rawls is the devil.”

Two protesters laughing as they chant.

The protesters gather around the stage where the band plays, chanting and holding up signs.

Counter-protesters gather at one of the two Confederate monuments that were under consideration to be removed. The counter-protesters were mostly members of the St. Augustine Tea Party.

A counter-protester holds a flag that reads “Don’t Tread On Me.” For the people who want to keep the Confederate monuments, the statues are testament to history and Americans who died fighting for their country.

A protester and member of the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition holds up her fist as three million Christmas lights are turned on all at once. For the people who want the confederate-era monuments removed, the statues are more than a piece of history – they are a constant reminder of slavery and oppression against minorities.

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