On Martin Luther King Day 2015 the historic house next door to us on The Freedom Trail here in St. Augustine is a faint shadow of its former self. A weathered sign by the rear entry reads:
“NO TRESPASSING by order of the City of St. Augustine. Violators will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Some of the louvered glass windows on the back porch are broken out. Sheets and blankets cover the windows.
The White family paid the price for their courage. James and Hattie were leaders in the Civil Rights Movement, as was their son Samuel. But, as Isaac Watts (1674–1748) reminds us in his poem and hymn “O God, Our Help in Ages Past”:
Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.
Time has a way of placing brackets around even the best historic moments. James, Hattie, and Samuel, their 14 year-old son, who was sent to reform school for sitting in at the downtown St. Augustine Woolworth’s, have been borne away by time. The three of them are deceased; their story and the dream is still alive.
When young Samuel and his three friends later known as “the St. Augustine Four” were arrested at Woolworth’s, the authorities agreed to release them to their parents’ custody on one condition: that they sign a statement that their children would not violate the law again. The four young men pleaded with their parents not to sign the pledge, assuring their parents that they, the sons, could make no such pledge. Mr. and Mrs. White refused to sign. Fourteen year-old Samuel was sent to reform school for a year. He served six months of the sentence before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Robinson and other civil rights movement leaders came to St. Augustine to shine the national spotlight on St. Augustine. Samuel and the other incarcerated member of The St. Augustine Four were released by order of the Governor of Florida. The Civil Rights Act followed.
For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
– William Walsham How (1823 – 1897)