Police in St. Johns County are searching for a marker that had just been installed as a reminder of a lynching that had taken place on the site, off Shands Pier Road, in June of 1897.
The lynching memorial was set to be dedicated with a ceremony Saturday led by St. Augustine’s Lincolnville Museum.
“We thought that we lived in a better community than that,” said museum Director Gayle Phillips. She said her staff are “heartbroken” over the marker’s vandalism.
“We can disagree about a lot of different things, but it doesn’t give me the right to destroy somebody else’s property because I disagree with it. And I think that we have to get to the point where we respect each other as human beings again,” she said.
Phillips said Saturday’s ceremony will proceed, now as a teaching opportunity rather than a dedication.
The cast-aluminum marker, which was about 4 feet-by 6 feet wide and sat atop a concrete base, had been donated by the Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, Alabama, as part of its nationwide lynching memorial project.
Phillips said it had taken months of planning to get to this point, with approvals needed from the county planning and markers committees and county attorney. The parks department installed the marker, and the Lincolnville Museum brought in a bench so visitors could reflect on its meaning while enjoying the view of the St. Johns River.
She said it’s not the first time a marker related to African-American history has been vandalized or stolen in St. Johns County.
“It’s showing a really negative pattern of behavior,” she said. “We think we’re moving forward, but we’re still stuck in the dark ages somewhere where vigilante justice was the rule.”
Phillips said St. Johns County will provide a makeshift marker while the search continues.
Saturday’s ceremony will also include the announcement of scholarships for high school students who submitted entries to the Equal Justice Initiative’s Racial Justice Essay Contest.