We knew nothing about St.Augustine when we rented the house at 96 South Street for the month of January. It turns out that the house next door played an important part in the Civil Rights Movement. 94 South Street is on “The Freedom Trail” tour in St. Augustine in Lincolnville, the district settled by freed slaves in 1866.
Newly arrived, we notice that a group gathers each day outside the house. Our second evening I walk by the house at dusk and greet the gray-bearded man sitting in a chair. He rises with his cane.
“Good evening,” he responds.
“You live here?” I ask.
“No, my friend does.”
“My name’s Gordon,” I say, extending my hand.
“Mr. _____” [I cant’ hear what he says]. “So tell me about this house. It’s an historic house, right?”
“Read the sign,” he says, limping to the plaque next to the sidewalk. “Read it.”
I read it out loud.
Home of the White Family – Lincolnville
This has been the home to the Whites, one of the outstanding families active in the 1963-1964 civil rights movement in St. Augustine. Parents James (a decorated Buffalo Soldier from World War II) and Hattie Lee White both took part in demonstrations and went to jail for freedom in those times. Their son Samuel was one of the “St. Augustine Four”–teenagers who spent six months in jail and reform school after a July 1963 sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter downtown. Mrs. White wrote to NAACP leader Roy Wilkins, “I’ve never heard of any child being taken away from their parents for wanting his freedom. Have you?” National protests at the injustice by Jackie Robinson and others forced the governor and cabinet of Florida to release the St. Augustine Four in January 1964.
Twin daughters Janice and Jeanette took part in the effort to integrate one of the local white churches. They are featured in Jeremy Dean’s movie “Dare Not Walk Alone.”
Sons Christopher and Walter Eugene were pioneers in the effort to end racial segregation in St. Augustine’s public schools. Son James took part in the wade-ins that garnered international attention at St. Augustine Beach in the summer of 1964.
This marker is erected by ACCORD to honor all of the members of the family for their efforts to make St. Augustine, America, and the world a better place.
Christopher still lives in the house.
So here we are vacationing next to history. Look for more posts from conversations with Christopher and the people at St. Paul A.M.E. Church after the “Hands Up” workshop this Saturday.
– Gordon C. Stewart, Thursday, January 15, 2015