Historic markers memorializing two sites important to St. Augustine’s civil rights movement of the 1960s were ripped off their buildings over the past few weeks.
Our Florida Times-Union news partner reports members of the historic city’s black community are searching for the markers and whoever took them as someone offered to “gladly donate $$” on St. Augustine’s ACCORD (Anniversary to Commemorate the Civil Rights Demonstrations) Freedom Trail Facebook page to replace them quickly.
The markers, two of 31 along the Freedom Trail, commemorate significant sites where people fought for racial equality. ACCORD was begun in 2003 after discussions on ways to honor the anniversary of civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1964 visit to St. Augustine to lead a nonviolent campaign against segregation and discrimination. A few months later the Civil Rights Act was enacted to outlaw discrimination.
One of the missing markers was at 64 Washington St. in Lincolnville, once headquarters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the civil rights movement. The other marked the home of dentist R.B. Hayling, a major civil rights leader.
ACCORD Civil Rights Museum project manager Gwen Duncan, also the group’s president emeritus, said it is unknown what happened to the markers and that others are being checked to make sure nothing has happened to them. But she is bluntly honest about the community reaction to their theft, feeling they were deliberately taken only a year or so after someone tried to set the museum on fire and damaged another marker at a Bridge Street Freedom Trail site.
“I know we are living in some turbulent times and there are people who are very angry, even about these Confederate markers,” Duncan said. “It has all come to the forefront: the anger and the hatred. ... This has reared its ugly head, and those who felt this way before feel free to bring that to the forefront again. I believe segregationists are behind it.”
The Washington Street address also was the home of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s first executive director, John Tilley. It also housed the barber shop of city civil rights pioneer Ernest Wells and a grocery store operated by Chris Lightburn, co-founder of the annual Lincolnville Festival in 1979, Freedom Trail officials said.
Duncan said it looks like someone “ripped it off the building,” although no one who works there remembers when it was taken, only that someone noticed it missing more than a week ago.
The other marker was standing in the front yard of a green house at 8 Dr. R.B. Hayling Place, which has been under renovation recently, Duncan said. Hayling became the leader of the civil rights movement in St. Augustine, even inviting King to visit the city. The home was targeted for racist attacks that saw the family dog killed and his wife shot at. The street was renamed for the civil rights leader in 2003, proclaiming him “Father of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”