January 18, 2010

Positivity: King legacy lives on

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 7:22 am

From St. Augustine, Florida:

Posted: January 18, 2010 – 12:06am

St. Augustine visit by hero of civil rights sets stage for change

If not for television images of blacks being brutalized in St. Augustine, and one dying U.S. senator casting his last vote, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would not have passed, according to St. Augustine historian David Nolan.

Nolan, who has studied St. Augustine’s black history for more than 30 years, told those gathered at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of St. Augustine on Sunday that the two factors were integral in one of the more important acts of modern justice becoming law.

In 1964, the U.S. Senate was abuzz with the biggest filibuster in its history. Senators, many from Southern states, read from a 60,000 page document — drawn to block the passage of the bill integrating hotels, motels and restaurants — until they were too weary to stand.

To break the filibuster, senators who supported the bill needed a two-thirds majority vote.

Dying from brain cancer, U.S. Sen. Clair Engle, a Democrat from California, was wheeled into Capitol Hill in his hospital bed.

“He couldn’t talk anymore,” Nolan said of Engle. “So he just pointed to his eye to vote yes.”

One month later, Engle was dead at 52.

That the filibuster’s end happened in that Shakespearian-worthy scene would not have occurred, Nolan said, if not for the protests and beatings broadcast to the nation nightly from St. Augustine.

“People were sitting down in front of their televisions across the country, watching unarmed African Americans being bloodied and beaten, and said, ‘This is not the America we want,’” Nolan said.

Nolan has spent years searching out and examining documents on King’s visits to St. Augustine — FBI reports on his activities, and in the Princeton University Library, an “Adverse File” filled with hate letters and death threats similar to those black baseball slugger Hank Aaron would receive 10 years later as he approached Babe Ruth’s all-time major league home run record.

St. Augustine officials were unhappy with the national coverage of rioting in St. Augustine. Record news stories of the time recall that the city was preparing for its 400th anniversary celebration in 1965 as the nation’s oldest city.

The stories said officials were concerned about the impact on the 1965 events.

King came to St. Augustine at the request of Dr. Robert Hayling and others. Hayling is considered by Nolan and others as the father of the civil rights movement in St. Augustine. Hayling frequently visits St. Augustine from his home in South Florida. He was able to convince King to visit.

King’s presence in St. Augustine preceded the U.S. Senate vote by weeks. ….

Go here for the rest of the story.

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