Martin Luther King Day in St. Augustine

The car dealer here in St. Augustine will be open on Martin Luther King Day. No holiday for its workers.

I learn this while waiting for my car to be serviced. I read the local paper, The St. Augustine Record, Wednesday, January 14, 2015. Tucked away page A6 under “News and Notes” is a small headline:

“Commemorative Breakfast Planned”

Commemorative of what? Martin Luther King, Jr., Monday, January 19 at First Coastal Technical College.

I put down the paper and walk through the show room to look at the new models. A white sales manager sees me get into one of the cars and points angrily to a 20-something African-American salesman to get with the program. The young man greets me through the passenger window. I tell him I’m just killing time during a routine oil change and that I’m from Minnesota. We exchange pleasantries.

I get a cup of coffee and go out to look at the used cars – it’s my thing, checking out used cars – and run into the young salesman again. I ask whether Martin Luther King Day is a big deal here in St. Augustine. He smiles. I tell him I’ve just read the newspaper and the small announcement. “Is the dealership closed for Martin Luther King Day?” I ask. “No, Sir. We’re open,” he says. “I’ll be working.”

“Do you know about The St. Augustine Four?” I ask. He doesn’t. I tell him we’re staying next door to the home of James and Hattie White whose 14 year-old son Samuel was sent to reform school in 1963 for sitting in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, and that the case of the four teenagers was responsible for Dr. King and Jackie Robinson joining the cause in St. Augustine.

Before I leave the dealership, he finds me in the waiting area. “I asked the boss,” he says. “He said I can have the day off if I want it.”

I tell him there’s a “Hands Up!” workshop Saturday morning at the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.) where MLK and Jackie Robinson joined the local the Civil Rights Movement in St. Augustine. It’s just around the corner from where we’re staying in Lincolnville. “Come if you can!” “Thanks,” he says, “Maybe I’ll see you there.”



NOTE: This e-mail was shared among friends from my wife Kay’s high school days. When asked how best to introduce her, Kathy replied, “just another person seeking to understand how to respond.”

“It’s so hard to make sense sometimes of all the voices, the messages, that break into a usual day.

“Downtown, I heard the sound of a ragtag bunch of demonstrators on the next block, chanting in one voice, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot’, in solidarity with protesters all around the country. I saw an armored police vehicle, moving quietly, on the next block, seemingly trying to get ahead of where the protesters would be coming next. There was no sound at all coming from the twelve or fifteen police who were mounted around the outside of the vehicle, like so many tin soldiers, with protective gear and plexiglas shields. If they were speaking, it wasn’t for us to hear. On the next block, at least two dozen police on bicycles were making their way up a crowded sidewalk; probably more in total than the group of protesters.

“Somewhat shaken, and wondering, as I often do, whether I belong out there with the marchers, and where is my place in the confusing discussion. What does my own voice need to say? I made my way back home. After all, there was no place to leave my car in our crowded downtown if I wanted to join the marchers. I was not “dressed” for a protest. I said to myself, “a walk in the park is what I need, even though it is getting dark. It’s not raining, and it’s mild and not windy”.

“As I walked up the slope around the corner from our house, I heard chanting again, this time happy voices. I couldn’t quite make out the words at first, but soon I realized it was three girls singing “Come on down to our holiday sale, our holiday sale, our holiday sale”. Of course, that group was much easier for me to join, and there were most certainly no police in sight. The girls had hot cocoa, gingerbread cookies, and origami birds for sale. Conversation was easy. One girl told me she was raising money for ‘cancer’, the next for the ‘pet shelter,’ and the last for ‘homeless’.

“I had to offer a prayer of gratitude for everyone who is working to make this longing world a more just and welcome place.”

Kathy Elliott
Portland, Oregon
December 7, 2014