Historian gives tour of Civil Rights landmarks in St. Augustine | News

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Historian gives tour of Civil Rights landmarks in St. Augustine
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ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Historian David Nolan took First Coast News on a civil rights history tour of St. Augustine.

While driving down Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, Nolan smiled, "Many cities have streets named for Dr. King, but I always feel ours is special because he actually walked on ours in the course of changing history."

Nolan pointed out various homes where King stayed while in St. Augustine.

He walked up to one house on Washington Street that has a placard with a photo of King giving a press conference.

"This is a photograph of Dr. King and it was taken right across the street here at that house. He was holding a press conference," Nolan pointed out.

File footage from the Florida Photographic Collection shows King on that porch saying, "We are not seeking to wreck St. Augustine as some have mistakenly believed. We have further agreed to call off demonstrations."

Nolan explained "that's because the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was about to be signed."

Nolan pointed to another home, "The tension and violence was so great that it wasn't safe for him to spend more than one night in a single location, so they kept moving him around so the people who wanted to do him harm could not find the place."

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, Nolan pointed to a church. "This is St. Paul AME Church and when King came to speak here, there were so many people who wanted to hear him. There was no single church large enough to hold all of them. So they held rallies simultaneously here at St. Paul's and then around the corner at First Baptist Church right behind it. They shuttled Dr. King out the back door of one church and into the back door of the other so that everyone who wanted to hear him would have a chance."

Nolan then shared the history about the church across the street. "This is the historic black Catholic Church, St. Benedict the Moor. Dr. King went to the rectory there to try and convince the Catholics to take part in the Civil Rights demonstrations but the archbishop at the time would not permit Catholic nuns and priest to take part in the Civil Rights movement in St. Augustine."

Nolan explained that King never marched in St. Augustine.

"Because of the tension and violence, the FBI was certain that St. Augustine was going to be the place where Dr. King would be killed," Nolan explained. "And so people told him not to march here."

Nolan then drove over to the Hilton on the Bayfront, the site of the former Monson Motel. "This was the only place in Florida where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested, and he was arrested on these steps," Nolan pointed. "The Monson has sadly been demolished, but the steps were saved."

Over at the pool, Nolan said, "This was the site of the Monson Motel pool. The most famous photograph ever taken in St. Augustine was taken in June 1964 when black people were swimming in the pool. The manager of the motel actually had two containers of acid, and he walked around the pool splashing it out, yelling, 'This is acid! This is acid!'"

Across the Bridge of Lions and down State Road A1A near Crescent Beach, Nolan walked up to a small beach house.

"We're in a neighborhood called Anastasia Hills, a beach community on Anastasia Island," Nolan described. "But Anastasia Hills was a white beach community, and people were just outraged that this place was made available to Dr. King. The local newspaper ran directions as how to get to this beach house rented to King, and that same day people came out and shot-gunned it and firebombed it. But one of the iconic photographs of the Civil Rights Era appeared in Life magazine showing Dr. King pointing to the bullet hole in the window here in the house."

Nolan said, "The Civil Rights Act grew out of St. Augustine. It was the demonstrations in St. Augustine that the people of America saw every night when they turned on the news."

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