As the nation marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act on Wednesday, the city of St. Augustine is honoring the Oldest City's role in the struggle with a ceremony at the Plaza de la Constitución and the opening a civil rights museum.
The Civil Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, 1964. The act banned discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It protected voting rights, banned discrimination in public facilities and established equal employment opportunities. Before the bill was passed, it was in a Senate filibuster for 60 working days.
In June 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. joined protest at whites-only lunch counters and pools in St. Augustine. The national news coverage showing the treatment of protesters during the non-violent demonstrations helped sparked national attention to segregation that is credited with ending the filibuster and the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
“On this day, we will honor those who took part in the important marches and demonstrations of the civil rights movement, causing the world to take notice,” said Dana Ste.Claire, director of the St. Augustine 450th Commemoration. “The courageous actions of those 50 years ago in St. Augustine were the catalyst of the passage of the Civil Rights Act.”
Among the honored guests at Wednesday's event was Robert Hayling, a St. Augustine civil rights leader who was inducted into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame earlier this year. Hayling’s former dental office at 79 Bridge Street will officially open Wednesday as the Civil Rights Museum of St. Augustine.
The event also included the presentation of a proclamation honoring the day as well as a laying of the wreath on the Foot Soldiers Monument by Barbara Vickers, 2014 Commemoration Advisory Council member, Foot Soldiers Monument coordinator and civil rights veteran. Madeline Holtz, Carol Holtz and Dorothy Edwards of the 1964 Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church choir will sing “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.” Nearby church bells will ring to conclude the event.
The Foot Soldiers Monument is the site of the ceremony due to its significance. The monument was created in 2011 under the direction of Vickers as a remembrance of the people who took part in peaceful protests in St. Augustine during the civil rights movement. The monument is comprised of four life-size portraits that represent a demographic profile of those involved in the movement.
Jacksonville leaders also commemorate 50th anniversary
The city of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Commission is hosting an observance of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Mayor Alvin Brown will join keynote speaker U.S. District Judge Brian J. Davis, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland, among other elected officials and city leaders, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the landmark legislation.
Al Letson, host and producer of WJCT’s “State of the Re:Union” will serve as master of ceremonies and the program includes performance and awards honoring the contributions of the Jacksonville Branch of the NAACP. Isaiah Rumlin, president of the Jacksonville NAACP, and Rodney Hurst, former Youth Council president of the Jacksonville NAACP, will accept awards on the organization’s behalf.
Jacksonville's event began at 5:30 p.m. with a reception in the City Hall Atrium, followed by the program at 6:15 p.m.