C: How did you become involved in the St. Augustine crisis?
S: Well, by becoming one, by being one of the principals in the
Civil Rights movement with Dr. King and Abernathy and
Lowery, and the others...
S: And we felt that it was unnecessary in my view movement by
the, then ... known personalities of the movement put in an
C: Were you still in Birmingham at the time?
C: I see.
S: Well, no, I was in Tallahassee, was in sixty-...
C: St. Augustine was 64 .
S: 64 I was living in Cincinnati. My relatives were there
but I was still in Birmingham. Had charge of the Alabama
Christian Movement and I was in Birmingham more than here
because I had so many legal cases to resolve.
E: Right, right. Just out of curiosity, background... you were
affiliated with what church in Birmingham?
S: I was pastor of the Bethel Baptist Church in North
Birmingham, which was bombed twice.
C: Right. And, you were the chief organizer of the
Birmingham...the demonstrations, is that correct? In 63?
S: One of them.
C: One of them. OK. Why, how did SCLC get involved in St.
Augustine, do you Know?
S: Well, I think it was Dr. Hayling then. Now, he was the head
of the local Civil Rights group there, and requested to come
down. And, of course, all those requests go to Dr. King and
the board, you see. And the decision was reached to go
down. I guess they started off sending the staff in and
then the principals started going in.
C: Who were the SCLC leaders in St. Augustine? The ones who
were directly in charge?
S: Well, let's see. Hosea Williams was one, because he and I
led several nights marches there. C.T. Vivian was one. He
and I led the march, one of the marches which went to the
river. We went swimming when the desegregation order was
C: What was SCLC after in St. Augstine, do you think?
S: Well, generally what we would be after in everything, to
alert people, to get people to move on toward their rights.
I think here the beaches were segregated and the restaurants
and so forth were segregated, and of course, there was the
Klan riding around at this local sheriff's deputy possee and
so forth, so we had to do all of that, so we come up police
brutality there and human rights.
C: Um hum. Was there an attempt to keep pressure on Congress
with the 64 Civil Rights Act being considered at that
S: Yes, yes, definitely.
C: Um hum. When did you arrive in St. Augustine?
S: I really don't know. I went down, I went down several
times. Come in and stay a day or two and participate and drive
back. Both to Birmingham and Cincinnati.
C: What was the idea behind the night marches?
S: Well, we figured that daytime marches had special value, but
that to do it at night would create more attention, that
C: Um hum.
S: ...keep the community at unrest it decided to do something
about it, and they had to be more protective and so forth so
on. And I might tell you that the police in themselves were
nervous and scared even though they had guns and dogs.
C: Yeah. How would you compare, just out of curiosity, St.
Augustine to Birmingham?
S: Well, the worst riot I ever was in my life was in St.
Augustine, Florida, around that flea market. That was
atrocious, vicious. I think that was that because the
police had allowed their climbing together and get there...
whet up their appetite, like the Indian used to do a war
party-type situation, you know.
S: And sit up on defenseless and helpless people that night
there. But Birminham, by far, was the more difficult and
dangerous situation continuously because of the residual
effects of the Klan because of the atent and patent abuse of
human rights by the police, by the courts, by everything
else. There we did have a federal Judge, who took charge
and followed this thing from day to day, and when we were in
the court, he would leave. Evidently, Hoss Manuey was the
one who arrested me. Manucy was the head of the Klan then.
I didn't know until I had been Jailed that night with those
Jewish rabbis and I was looking at it on tv. I said,
"That's the guy that arrested me."
C: (chuckles) So, was St. Augustine more violent, do you think,
than Birmingham or...
S: No, I can't say it was more violent...
S: I just said that particular riot. St. Augustine was not
violent expect for that riot that night and then one on the
beaches where we went to the beaches and the Klan opened up
for us to come in and swim. Of course we had no intention
of swimming--getting out there in deep water and getting
drowned, and most of our people were children.
S: So I said to C. T. Vivian, I said... they said, "Come on in,
niggers." Said, "all right, we're coming," and we would go
and head toward the water, you knows. They were taunting us
and we were just, you know, chatting back. "You all got the
right to swim, dammit come in." I said, "all right, we'll
be there. Just don't worry about it. Get back so we can
come in. Open up." So they got back further out in the
water and opened up a space between them, I guess, for us to
come in there and swim, I guess, which would be about
twenty, fifteen or twenty yards. They were up to breast or
shoulder deep in the water. And so I said to C. T. Vivian,
"we must go into the water, but we ain't going as far as
they are, because I can't swim and I sure am not going to
take the responsibility for drowning these kids." So we
quietly passed the word back through the line, as I remember
that incident. "Follow us. Do what we do." So the Klan
that welcomed us come in, so they got even further back.
Just means that less people got hurt or drowned, hurt that
day. They got further back, so we went, just as we were
going into the day. They got further back, so we went, just
as we were going into the water, going straight to it, then
as soon as we went, just as we were going into the water,
going straight to it, then as soon as we got about ankle-
deep, I said, "Left face," and we all started to turn back,
coming out of the water. And the Klansmen ran, some of
them, hit two or three. Then the policemen moved in to
break it up and this was another vicious situation.
C: What were the...
S: One policemen was up on top of a car, bashing heads, at
those times, with billy sticks. And they were trying to get
to him to kill him. They were mad because we had the right
C: Did... how were the police in St. Augustine? We they very
S: Well, I think they were helpful when they had to be.
S: You know, they didn't particularly cherish patrolling and
guarding us. I'm sure that no policeman likes to beat the
head of another white person.
C: That was Sheriff Davis
S: ...they were under orders and I think that the mistake in
many of these things is allowing these people to get so
violent and whip their appetites and emotions up until they
have to really spill over into violence. I think that's,
that's the key to most of the problems that broke out in the
South, Klan and other things. If you move people along at a
certain time, you might, you know, avert some of the
violence that was done.
C: You, they had these two fellows--Stoner, and Connie Lynch in
St. Augstine. Were they also in Birmingham? They were,
Stoner was the Klansman and Lynch was the...
S: Yeah, well, I think he lived in Atlanta. I never met them
personally. I presume that they came, you know, the
Klansmen had a knack for roaming around, I guess, for wrong,
just like we'd kind of roam around and do for rights. I
C: Yeah. So you never, you never heard them speak or ran into
S: No, no. I understand there was a Klan rally there.
C: Yeah, there was.
S: Hailey or somebody went to it and they beat him up. I don't
remember who it was.
C: Well, he rode by and got, he got waylaid by the Klansmen who
saw him riding by. How about the community as a whole? Did
you get any cooperation at all from the white leadership in
S: Not to my knowledge in the community?
S: I don't remember. And then I wasn't in charge of that day-
to-day situations like that. Somebody who was in charge and
stayed there awhile like C. T. Vivian or Hosea Williams or
Bernard Lee or Abernathy or some of them would have known
more about that than I would.
C: Yeah. How about success in St. Augustine? Do you ... Was
there a general feeling that SCLC had gained a victory for
the black community in St. Augstine?
S: Well, I'm certain that, yes, of course we had the
contributors, by getting the legal victims, by getting the
Klan defused, by...
C: The Civil Rights Act was, of course, passed.
S: And I want to go back. There were some white people who
came, who cooperated, but I think these, most of them were
whites who came from without. And then we had the priest,
the rabbis, who went to jail with us who considered it an
honor in those days to go jail with the priest. And some
others. There was one girl, a white girl I believe who was
from the local community. I'm not sure. I can't be sure if
they were. I don't want to give the impression there was
absolutely no white cooperation, but I think most of it, as,
there as in other places, came from the outside.
C: Um hum. Talked about the federal movement? Were they very
S: Well, in moving the court situation. See, we had gotten
from Birmingham and Montogomery and Sela, we had gotten the
ferdal government enforcing agent of the government involved,
so they could move into court quickly and get people that
law enforcement officials would do their duty. Now, that
was by far the most important situation.
S: In enforcing rights, see.
S: The justice department moved pretty quickly there.
C: Was the justice department, say, as cooperative as it had
been in Birmingham or were they very cooperative in
S: Well, I think they were, they were cooperative to the limit
of their thin understand as to what the role of the justice
department should be in the government, you know. I wonder
why none of FBI agents couldn't do anything expect stand up
and look and take notes.
S: Martin Luther King used to kick me when he'd stand there,
take notes, great note takers. He'd tell you exactly how
many blows you took before you fell. (Chuckles) But then
under Robert Kennedy, you see, and Teddy Kennedy the justice
department began to move actually and get the agents
involved a little bit more. Of course, within limits.
S: Always deferring to local officials to using marshals when
they had to. They insure that the agents would not just
stand by and see anybody get killed, you know.
C: Um hum. How did, how did SCLC decide where, what
communities to go into in a particular year?
S: Well, that's usually the board and staff decision.
C: Um hum. And so they'd have a bunch of letters from various
S: Or request and phone calls. People would community directly
with Dr. King. You didn't just get a letter and go into a
community. You had to have some close-up conversation and
really get the feel that, that something is needed, and then
here is someplace we could go where we could make a is
needed, and then here is someplace we could go where we
could make a witness which would be both moving, moving and
meaningful. And could be seen by the country as getting
some things won, you Know.
C: Right. So did they try to go with one major community?
S: Yes. Well, we didn't be in two, three places at one time.
C: Ok. Was that decided from the start really to go with one
community, say, as to Montgomery, or was that a later
S: Do what?
C: Was it decided early on in history of the SCLC to go with
one community or did that sort of develop after you tried
several communities and found that it didn't work that way?
S: Well, the limitations in staff and what we could do, Dr.
King's time, mine, Ralph Abernathy and others, were meeded
at many speaking engagments, just almost synthesized that we
had to limit and concentrate ourselves on one basic job at a
time. Now there would be follow-up in one community or
there might be people, some as staff and some going in to
other communities, speaking and doing things and encouraging
people. Or even some of us could be doing that, but the
major activity had to be confined because of resources to
basically one area at a time.
C: Was there a real feeling or fear in SCLC that it was very
important to keep the movement non-violent so that violence
wouldn't spread among the black America at least.
S: Oh, definitely, we felt that by all means. And wish that it
could have been kept that way. We wish that the country
could have responded to nonviolence before this violent
content became evident and too many people hurt and go jail
records and disillusioned on this false concept of black
power and so forth.
C: I was wondering, how old were you in 1963? Four '64 ?
S: Well, I had to be, let's see, I was born in 22, so you
subtract. Probably forty-two then.
C: And how did you, how did you become involved in the Civil
Rights Movement originally?
S: Well, that's a long story but it can be shortened by saving
when I went to Bethel Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama
in 63, I immediately started dealing in my own church and
voting registration and community progress, and I was
real... a driving force then. I got other members of the
community to do the same, and then I worked with Civic
League across Jefferson Country. Became known that way.
C: Um hum.
S: And then I was good, a pretty good speaker and I was invited
to do the NAACP Emancipation address. The first year, I
think two years straight they elected me as membership
chairman, which gave me access to people because I was
already known. And then I was membership chairmen when
NAACP was outlawed in 1956, in May. Now, also, before this
or during this time, before I was elected membership
chairmen, the first big headline, I guess I got it in
Birmingham, was that when I got fifty-five minister to sign
for Negro police, fill out their Negroes at that time. In
'55, that was a little bit before the MIA stared its
boycott. So that's how I got involved and of course, with
the funding of my...with the outlawing of the Alabama..of
the NAACP in Alabama, of course I called a mass meeting June
5, 1966, and organized the local movement and then went on
to national meeting and many a group still does meet, and
then, and we started attacking segregation. My philosophy
was that the best defense was a great offense and if all
segregation. My philosophy was perhaps best being used in
situations when the orangizers filed their first lawsuit
contending...... One of the men said to me, "now we've got
that thing started, let's sit back and see how that comes
out." I immediately said to him without thinking too well
that we had to continue to protest. But I mean, put a lot
egg because that egg spoils and you've wasted your chaveer.
But I mean, put a lot of eggs in the basket, somebody will
hatch out. And so we went in railroad station, pashas and,
anything else. The courthouse was when you had to go into
massive demonstrations, be down at the courthouse and decide
that the citizens are going to be down there and desecrate
the courteous. Then, we had the bus situation that started
in Montgomery and also into Birmimingham.
C: Is that when you first got to know Dr. king or had you known
S: No, I knew him before in Montgomery that same site. We had
talked that year occasionally, but met, naturally, and of
course we were there when they organized that night to start
getting together to demastriate. So then, after Birmingham
became so big, we got started, we had fought and won several
legal victories and they would become pyrrhic victories
because the law would be frustrated by the courts and the
judges so that we began talking with SCLC and others about a
confrontation. That's why the massive demonstrations were,
we'd build around, even that people had to be moved enmasse
for their rights. That to confront the system, we had to
massively rise up non-violently. And really create turmoil
in the sense to create attention in the community. You
can't operate normally with segregation. And that
Birmingham was the best place because of good climate and
having establish as a citadel and because the next thing is
being a type of a strong person, I gusset I...they called me
strong. I don't know what I was, I was a fool maybe. The
Klan couldn't run me out. You know, they burned my house,
blew the house down around my head. I didn't run out and
leave town. And I had established a trust among the people
whereas if I ever told them I was going to do any one thing,
I would do it, because there was no doubt that if they
people respected and would follow, because the few that
would follow me in danger, you know, they would stick with
me, you know. So that's, that's just a decision to make
this massive confrontation in Birmingham because we said we
said in Birmingham goes, so goes the nation.
S: And it did.
C: Right. What, where did you, had you come from before you
went to Birmingham?
S: I was born in Montgomery, Alabama, but I didn't...they
brought me to Jefferson Country when I was a Kid, baby. So
I was raised up around Birmingham. Oxmore, about ten miles
from Birmingham, all my life in the rural.
C: Had you gone, had to gone to college or religious school?
S: When I was in Biramingham?
S: In '43, in 140, in 1940, I finished high school in
Louisville. I married in '41 when I was 19. Worked for
two or three years at the cement plant there. Then I went
to Mobile, Alabama to get started on defense work. Got a
job with the government. The only schooling I'd had beyond
high school then was I started going to night school because
I felt the call to the ministry. And the, I worked for the
government until '47 when I quit to go to school at Selma
University to begin my college work, Selma University in
Selma, Alabama, the black belt, where we had the '65 voting
riots there. I went there in '47. I began pasturing two
churches--one on the east side, rural church and one on the
west side in '48. And then in I was going to school at
Selma University. At that time it became practical for
people not with a degree to get a C certification, and I
felt that if I got that along with my two little churches
salaries, I could make a living. So I immediately left
Selma University on the spur of the moment and went to
Alabama State. Made very high grades there for a year,
three quarters. While I was there, I commuted back to
Selma, to my local churches, and all of a sudden, the large
churches there, the First Baptist Church, which
incidentally, a storm tore it up in January of this year,
but, the minister suddenly left First Baptist Church in
October of '50, and I was well-thought of in the church for
coming up there. And the deacons asked me to temporarily
serve until they got ready to send out and get somebody.
'Course I preached there from October until May. Preached
every morning and then go right immediately to my other
country churches. And in May they called me, so I stayed
there from May until '50 to '52, and that's how I became,
you know, involved there. And then I went back to Selma
University and I'm back there now. Got my AB degree at
Selma that I have, and then I went, commuted back to
Montomery and got my BS degree. In '60 I was on a Master's
degree. So that's, that's where I am now.
C: Right. Who are on the board of directors of the SCLC?
Besides Dr. Aber...Reverend Abenathy...
S: I don't know. You'd have to get some of the minutes because
there's a lot of people.
S: David from Louisiva, Anderson from Baton Rouge...
C: How often do they meet, once a year?
S: Johnson from Mississippi. The board meets in April, and
SCLC meets in August. at a convention.
C: I see. Ok, well, listen, I thank you for your time.
S: All right.
C: And I really appreciate the information.
S: Ok, if there's any publication, you know, write the group,
give me a copy of it.
C: I certainly will.
S: What's your name again?
C: David Colburn, C-O-L-B-U-R-N. I'm at the University of
C: University of Florida.
S: And you're doing this for what?
C: I'm writing a book for Columbia University Press.
S: Oh, Ok.
C: On the St. Augustine Civil Rights crisis.
S: All right.
C: And I'll send you a copy.
S: Would you?
C: When I finish. Sure will.
S: Thank you.
C: Thanks for your time. 'Bye.