D: I'm Kristin Dodek. It is February 18, 2005. I'm here in Jacksonville, Florida,
with Rodney Hurst. Could you start by stating when you were born and giving
me a little bit about your background in Jacksonville.
H: I was born on March 2, 1944. I'm sixty-years-old, sixty-one next month.
D: You look good by the way.
H: Thank you. I was president of the Youth Council of the NAACP at age sixteen
during the Ax Handle Saturday and the sit-in demonstrations. Do you want a lot
D: Maybe just a little bit about your education, family.
H: I've lived in Jacksonville all of my life. I'm a veteran, served four years in the
military. [I] was the first black male they hired at the Prudential South Central
Home Office here in Jacksonville. [I] received a fellowship from the Corporation
for Public Broadcasting for studying journalism and broadcasting, one of the first
thirteen, which also included Jim Lehrer [anchor for The NewsHour on PBS],
among other people. [I] was the first black to co-host a television show here in
Jacksonville on public television. [I] served two consecutive terms on the city
council here in Jacksonville, wrote the youth employment programs for the city,
worked in the anti-poverty program. I was the first black to be executive director
of the state construction industry licensing board; I was the director for four and a
half years. I was the first black to head up a National Construction Industry
Organization. I've lived in Jacksonville, worked in Jacksonville, worked in the
area in both the political arena community service and social service programs
for all of my life.
D: What makes a sixteen-year-old not only willing to risk life and limb, but to be the
leader of a group of people willing to do so?
B: When I was eleven years old, I was in eighth grade, and I was in an American
history class that was taught by Rutledge Pearson, who was the advisor to the
Youth Council, NAACP. The unique thing about Rutledge's class as an
American history class was that he did not teach it from the textbook. He taught
American history with a lot of outside reference books, so when we studied the
relevant contributions that folk made to American history, we studied the
traditional names, but we also studied Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman and
Benjamin Banneker and Charles Drew -the names that you don't ordinarily read
in a school system-approved textbook. From that, he would encourage his
students and students at the ninth grade school that I attended to join the Youth
Council NAACP, and a lot of us did. We began to work on projects that became
a classroom outside of the classroom, a classroom in the community.
[There was] Strict segregation Jacksonville at the time, late 1950s, but we
were going down to courtrooms and we were observing what was happening in
the courtrooms and we were studying as best we could what was happening in
the political arena. Two years later, they opened a regional Sears store with no
black salespeople. Of course, Sears was not unique, there were not any other
black salespersons in the downtown area. In 1957 [1959?], we picketed Sears,
much to the chagrin of a number of white governmental types. Black folk who
were either on the payroll of or involved with city government at the time, even
though there were no black elected officials at that time. Interestingly, the
president of the NAACP at that time was Earl Johnson, who later became legal
counsel to the NAACP and who I served with on the city council during that time.
In 1960, when the so-called wave of sit-in demonstrations began, during the
summer of that year was when we went through our orientation workshops. The
NAACP was an interesting organization in the annals of civil rights groups; it
obviously is the oldest, being founded in 1909. But it was one that made sure
that they protected not only their members, but young people who got involved in
demonstrations. Later on in the movement, some civil rights organizations
embraced what was called "jail without bail" and things like that. Unfortunately,
in some of those instances, young girls, coeds were raped.
Young black men and white men who espoused the "jail without bail"
concept and ideology were beaten, some even killed, as a result. The NAACP did
not want to see their folk in jail and at the hands of white southern law
enforcement officers, and always would work vigorously to defend any of us who
were arrested and made sure that we didn't stay in jail if we were arrested. But
with all of that as a backdrop, and with everything that Rutledge taught in the
classroom and what we learned outside of the classroom . the following year,
after my eighth grade year, I was at Isaiah Blocker Junior High School, and was
in Rutledge Pearson's class for a civics course. So, American history and
Civics, how natural could it be? He taught me two consecutive years [we] really
had almost a college level class. Even though I went to a high school where he
wasn't teaching, because we were still at a junior high school, I was then actively
involved in the Youth Council NAACP. My knowledge, my study, my learning, my
involvement in the community continued after those junior high school years, and
then of course in 1960 with what happened with sit-in demonstrations and Ax
D: In 1959, Frank Hampton sues to desegregate the city's golf courses, but my
knowledge of what I came across in some of the NAACP papers, from
1958-1959, indicates they were having trouble with membership; the
membership was a little bit low. What do you think the overall feeling towards civil
rights was within the black community during this period.
H: Well, first of all, I'm not a fan of Frank Hampton.
D: He was an ex-police officer, right?.
H: He was an ex-police officer, and in fact, I ran against Frank for city council. [I]
beat Frank Hampton for city council. My involvement with him goes back to the
time that I was involved. Our activities were not supported by Frank Hampton.
Frank, by varying accounts, was on the payroll with the city at that time.
Someone said that there was a position called expediter, and several blacks
were involved in those positions under Haydon Burns [Jacksonville mayor
1949-64; Governor of Florida, 1964-66]. I know that Frank, who was a golfer,
and several [other] golfers, filed suit against the golf course. I think the city of
Jacksonville had two municipally owned golf courses, and blacks were only
allowed to play one day or whatever the circumstances were, and he filed suits
against both. Later, the city built the city auditorium and the coliseum, and I
think they amended their suits to include public accommodations based on what
the city filed at that time. What also happened was that the NAACP asked
Frank and Earnest Jackson, who was his attorney, to let them modify his suit to
include public accommodations, so that was the involvement there. But Frank
had a local citizens group, which was not affiliated with any national
organizations, and he was also the chairman of the trustee board of a major
black Baptist church here in town. We never got permission to have a mass
meeting for the NAACP in that church. Understand that back during those days,
communications in the black community was mostly word of mouth. There were
black weekly papers, which got the word out as best they could, but depending
upon when their deadline was when the word got out- so if their deadline was
Tuesday and the paper came out on Friday, but we didn't make a decision until
Wednesday-then we didn't get in that particular edition of the weekly newspaper.
So the churches became the CNN, the conduit for communications and
news at that time; that's how the word got out about what we were doing. The
NAACP has always had fluctuating memberships. When there is not a crisis,
people are not that oriented to join a group or organization that's involved in an
ongoing fight. The NAACP motto and slogan over the years has been "We're
fighting to put ourselves out of business," but obviously that ain't going to happen
because of just the nature of what we deal with in this country and the various
forms of discrimination. So as we got involved in issues, you would see an
immediate spike to NAACP membership. Also understand too that joining the
NAACP during that time was not like being a member of the "Book of the Month
Club." People resented, whites resented, blacks joining the NAACP in some
states. The state of Alabama, for instance, sought to get the membership roll of
the NAACP, and the NAACP's membership rolls are not available to public
scrutiny unless the organization so wanted. So the NAACP said no, the state of
Alabama, the city of Montgomery, the city of Birmingham, you can't have our
membership rolls, and the state of Alabama outlawed the NAACP in the state in
the late 1950s. It was not that drastic in other states. It was not that drastic,
obviously, in Jacksonville or the state of Florida, but believe you me, there were
those who really would want to know who joined, who were members of [the
NAACP], so they could be intimidated or whatever else. After the picketing in
1957 and after the sit-in demonstrations of 1960 and the resulting activities, the
NAACP had a tremendous increase in membership.
D: At this time, did you really feel that you would be able to accomplish change
within the structure of Jacksonville? Or was one of your goals to shine the light
on what was going on in Jacksonville so that outside influences could be brought
H: In the civil rights movement and with sit-in demonstrations, you never had a
conscious conversation about how far reaching the ramifications would be. What
we would talk about all the time and what Rutledge would talk about was,
number one, freedom is not free, and if you're not part of the solution, you're part
of the problem. Freedom is not free, and there are things that you have to do
even at your young ages, and there are things that you need to understand. If
you want to do something about it, that's one thing, if not, then they remain as
they are. You had so many visible vestiges of segregation that young people
today don't have a clue. When I speak to college groups and during this month
of Black History and other times during the year, I try to get people to imagine
what it's like to go into a store and you have to use the bathroom and the
bathroom says "white women", "white men", and "others." Or you [would] pass
by a water cooler, water fountain, and it says "white" and it says "colored." Or
you [would] walk into a store, like in downtown Jacksonville with Woolworth's,
where along one full side of the store there was a lunch counter with eighty-four
seats, and in the back, at the absolute back beyond everything that you can
imagine that you had to walk by that a Woolworth's would sell at that time, [would
be the black seating area].
Once again, young people have no idea what a five and dime store was,
but it was the miniature version of Wal-Mart and Target. They were downtown.
If you can imagine walking into a store, and what people would want to get, what
would be the most popular items, would be at the front of the store; so cosmetics
and jewelry, fragrances would be at the front. Then you would pass the candy
section and then school supplies and picture frames, shoes, housewares, house
goods, and garden supplies and pet supplies and aquariums and work clothes
and pants. As you passed, as you're walking the store and you're passing all
these things to your left, you're walking parallel to the white lunch counter. Then
the further you get in the store, the further you get beyond the popular items and
you're passing by rakes and shovels and plants and these kinds of things, wheel
barrels. At the very rear is a ten to twelve seat lunch counter-you couldn't even
see it from the front of the store-and that's where Negroes, or "coloreds" at the
time was the terminology, would sit and eat. Now, you could go to another
counter-I could go and buy school supplies, I could go and buy popcorn, I could
go and buy candy, I could go and buy anything I wanted to buy at any of those
other counters and my money was accepted freely. But they would not accept
my money at the white lunch counter if I were an African American.
D: And that white lunch counter was a conspicuous part of the store?
H: Very much so. Along the side with windows, the bays as they came out were
very visible. What they would always do is when we would sit in at the lunch
counter, they would always close the store or close that part of the lunch counter,
so if you look at any pictures of the lunch counter, you will see what represents a
bay that would come out. The lunch counter was long along one side, and then
you would have a bay or several bays along the whole line that would come out
to seat maybe four persons. But when we would come to sit at the lunch
counter, they would close it.
Several things we wanted to make Woolworth's and Grant's and Cress'
understand ; that segregation, though profitable for them under segregated
circumstances, can also be very expensive. Because when you close that lunch
counter when we got to sit in, you had a daily lunch crowd, and no one wanted
warmed over grilled cheese sandwiches and bacon, lettuce, tomato, and
hotdogs. So you had to throw that away. But sit-in demonstrations were not
about eating a hotdog and a coke, it was about human dignity and respect. It
was about you're disrespecting me as a man and as a person and as a member
of an identifiable ethnic group where you accepted money, and you gladly
accepted my money here, but under some artificial mores and folkways of the
South, you said, you can't sit there-for whatever the reason. If it's obvious that
my skin color would not rub off, then you were saying that I was not a social
equal to sit at that lunch counter, but I'm a social equal or an economic equal to
spend money someplace else. So we made sure that everyday we went to sit-in
at a lunch counter, that we went to one of the other counters and bought
something. If it was nothing more than a pencil or a candy bar, just to show that
you would accept my money at this counter and wouldn't accept it at the other.
D: Is that part of the reason that you chose to do sit-ins, for the visibility?
H: Yeah, sit-in demonstrations were visible.
D: As opposed to boycotts.
H: Well, boycotts came later. Sit-in demonstrations had happened throughout the
South in a lot of college towns, and a number of those college town's students
had been arrested. There was violence in some places; Chattanooga, Nashville,
Atlanta, and Tallahassee. Violence did occur in those places as did in
Jacksonville. In many cities where you had historically black colleges and
universities, many of those students were suspended or expelled from school.
Many of the local white politicians put tremendous pressure on the college
presidents to get rid of those students, agitators, the race-baiters, the trouble
rabble rousers off of the campus, so many of them were suspended and
expelled. But it was visible, and not only was it visible, but it captured the fact
that you accepted my money at one place in your store, but you will not accept it
at another. They were popular places [and] they were frequented often by both
black folk and white folk. Downtowns throughout the country were bustling; that
was the economic lifeblood of a community. There were certainly not a plethora
of shopping centers and malls-there was no mall concept at that time-so if you
wanted to shop you shopped downtown. After you shopped and spent all your
money getting ready for back to school and you were tired and you wanted to sit
down and rest and have something to eat, then you should have been able to do
that in lieu of the fact that you were there in the store anyway. Why should it
have made a difference where you sat to get something to eat?
D: It's my understanding that you went down to speak with Haydon Burns before the
sit-ins broke out with Alton Yates [Vice President, NAACP Youth Council] and
Rutledge Pearson. Is that accurate?
H: We requested a meeting with Haydon. We did not talk with Haydon Burns until
after the sit-in demonstrations, after the riot happened downtown. We had
requested a meeting, [but] Haydon thought that all of the principal persons,
myself included and probably Alton too, that we were from areas other than
Jacksonville, that we were not native. There was always this belief and concept
throughout the South, maybe it spilled over from slavery, maybe it spilled over
from white folks not having an understanding of black psyche, but there was
always this feeling that black folk wouldn't do this. We wouldn't confront the
system as it relates to really crashing segregation and our good race relations.
When we did meet with Haydon Burns, we met with Haydon Burns late one night
in city hall after seven, and he met with the Youth Council in a very private
D: Now you said this was after the incident right?
H: This was after Ax Handle Saturday. Our major thing was for him to appoint a
bi-racial committee. We felt then, as I continue to feel today, that one of the
primary problems in this country's race relations is that white folk and black folk
don't have ongoing lines of communication. We talk at each other, not with and
to each other, and we don't find that common ground to agree to disagree or
agree to agree. I'd much rather know, like I hope you would much rather know,
what my position is as opposed to saying some things that I might think you want
to hear. Haydon said what was obviously classic-it's classic now but it was just
the way his interpretation was at the time-that he was not going to appoint a
bi-racial committee, that the sheer definition and mission of the term bi-racial
meant integration, and that he was a segregationist. [He said], bi-racial meant
integration, and he was not going to appoint a bi-racial committee. Now, he was
not even acknowledging that there was any benefit in black folk and white folk
talking about these kinds of problems that had flared up, because again, we're
talking after the riot, after Ax Handle Saturday, and after the two or three days of
racial tension in this area. There was never a National Guard called up, but
certainly Jacksonville was very tense. There were a lot of fire bombings and
cars being stolen and people being beaten in addition to what happened that
afternoon in August that year. It was a very unfortunate situation.
I don't want to get ahead of you interviewing me, but we found out
recently, when we did the forty year retrospective of Ax Handle Saturday that
there was an FBI informant with the Klan. I did not know about him, I did not
know his name until the year 2000, but he wrote a full report about what the Klan
was planning and left it on the desk of Sheriff Dale Carson, who had just been
appointed sheriff two or three years earlier. He might have been elected by that
time, but two or three years earlier he had been appointed sheriff replacing the
previous sheriff who I think had to be removed by the government for whatever
the circumstances were. He was a former FBI agent, Dale Carson. Dale was
not there, but one of his lieutenants, who was a member of the Klan, who the
informant also knew was a member of the Klan, intercepted the report. That's
what we understand. We don't know if Dale ever saw the report. [The
lieutenant] then sought to find out who the informant was, but never did find out
who the informant was. The report indicated that the Klan did plan to attack
citizens downtown on August 27, that day. We do know when we came out of
W.T. Grant's, there were no policemen downtown, even though it was very
common for police to be on the corner of Adams and Main, which was where
Grant's was. [That] was a very major corner because of the foot and pedestrian
traffic at that time. But when we came out of Grant's there were no policemen;
certainly there were no policemen when we were attacked, and policemen did
not come out from everywhere until blacks started making their way to downtown
Jacksonville after they heard that the Youth Council was being beaten downtown.
D: What were the efforts before this to attempt to set up a bi-racial committee? Did
you communicate with other black leaders?
H: When the Afro-American Life Insurance building was downtown, it had just been
built a few years earlier, and Jacksonville did have a human relations
commission, which was a kind of private civil official group that would meet.
Jacksonville had never experienced this kind of confrontation to the system prior
to our picketing Sears, nothing like that had happened. Even the suit that Frank
and his people filed, the suit didn't cause a stir, the suit was just a suit. It had a
news life of a day or so, and other than conversations in the black community or
how news stories were picked up because of what was happening in the South
racially, but the mayor obviously would not have suggested a bi-racial committee
because he never saw the problem and never supported the concept of a
bi-racial committee. There were no black elected officials in any capacity in
Jacksonville, so there were no advocates. So even before we knew that Haydon
Burns would not appoint a bi-racial committee, we knew what the reception was
in downtown Jacksonville. There were no receptive ears that you could speak
with officially because segregation did not dictate or allow that kind of open
communication between black folk and white folk. Pragmatically, why would
white elected officials talk with us anyway. There was no crisis, there was
nothing serious that was happening. The crisis did not occur, the seriousness
did not occur, until after the riot that began that Saturday and after we started
boycotting the stores downtown. The Times Union newspaper never covered
anything about the sit-in demonstrations during the time, so when Ax Handle
Saturday occurred, there was no lead up news-wise as to what happened or why
did it happen. A lot of people to this day [have] never even heard of Ax Handle
Saturday. More have heard now than prior to that time. The term Ax Handle
Saturday, which was a very convenient moniker, if you will, was assigned by the
press. But the press didn't cover anything.
D: Do you believe there was a concerted effort to not cover it?
H: Oh, sure. There were reporters who were coming to Jacksonville reporting from
Chicago, New York, [and] California, that were reporting [back] to their respective
communities, and their readership knew more about what was going on than
those in Jacksonville. The Times Union had always been just an ultra-
conservative newspaper, and it hasn't changed very much to this day. I talk
about it from time to time, although I always don't have an example to show, the
Times Union used to publish what was called a "Star Edition," and in the front,
the masthead of the paper there would be a black star, and the black star would
identify the Star Edition. And at the back of the newspaper in the Star Edition,
behind the classified ads, would be a section that said "News For and About the
Colored People." Now, that paper never went to white homes. That section
was news, social news, church news, whatever, and that's where the black news
was for Jacksonville in the local paper.
I used to be a newspaper carrier about this same time, when I was in
eighth or ninth grade, for a short period of time. One of the other guys who was
also a carrier had two whites on his route and would get complaints once or
twice, maybe a couple more times, not that many, that he left a Star Edition at his
white customers' [homes]. [They'd say], there's no reason for me to have this
newspaper. There was no compromise on that. [They'd complain], I don't need
to know anything about what colored people are doing. So no one knew what
was going on, no one knew about sit-in demonstrations with hundreds of black
kids and some white youth and adults sitting in at lunch counters in opposition to
segregation at that time. It wasn't until the attack of Ax Handle with baseball
bats that everything erupted, and even at that, there was an article written on
August 28, which was that following Sunday, in the Times Union. I can't
remember the headline, but the headline was just something that was kind of
contrived and it really didn't address what the circumstances were.
D: I believe it was even buried on page eighteen.
H: It might have been.
D: So, the mass meetings were then your only outlet for explaining what was going
H: We had a major mass meeting that August 28th at AME Church in the middle of
the black community, and we had representatives from the Eisenhower
Administration. We had Saul Lefkowitz, who represented the U.S. Civil Rights
Commission, Herb Kaplow, Dan Rather, although I'm not sure it was Dan Rather,
and we had Alex Dreier from Chicago. We had a number of folk who either had
not made their names or were leading columnists at that time who came to
Jacksonville either that night or that day after the situation happened just to hear
us. So we announced the boycott of downtown and the boycott of the Times
D: During the sit-ins themselves, the turnout wasn't as high as the day after, but did
you still get good attendance?
H: Oh, sure, because we met everyday. Even though this was during the summer
and people were out of school, we met in a black Presbyterian Church which was
in close proximity to downtown, as were a number of churches were at the time.
Downtown was, in effect, ringed by that park that started the black community.
So we had [meetings] from that Saturday [on], and then of course we had a mass
meeting every Sunday at a different church. We had Youth Council meetings
every Wednesday night, and then we had our regular meeting all during the
week. Once after something began, after a demonstration started, there was no
dearth of support or persons to participate. So amenities, we had more than
enough because not only were we just sitting in at Woolworth's, but we were also
sitting in at Grant's and Cress too.
D: You went through pretty extensive non-violent training I believe, did Ruby Hurley
and Bob Saunders participate in the training?
H: It wasn't that extensive. There were several things that we did. We had sit-in
captains. I was president of the Youth Council NAACP at the time when Alton
[Yates] was first vice-president, so if Alton was in a particular area or I was in an
area, then we were always the captains, or if we were together we were
co-captains. We didn't want but just those captains to speak for the group. We
didn't want reporters coming up asking each of the sit-inners, why are you here,
what's your name, who are your parents, and that kind of stuff. [We didn't want]
that kind of intimidation. So they only spoke to us, we were the only ones who
gave official information. I knew fifty young people, both a combination of
teenagers and young adults because we had a number of students who were
involved who were college students back home during the summer that sat in
with the Youth Council who were either members of the chapter from where they
came or members of the Youth Council in Jacksonville, and they all participated.
D: Rutledge Pearson was a middle school teacher, did any middle school students
participate? Do you remember?
H: Yeah. We had some middle school students. You would have been through
age fifteen. Later on the juvenile court judge made an official edict that a sit-in
demonstration was a dangerous activity. It was always funny; what made it
dangerous? Was it dangerous because we sat-in, or did it become dangerous
when we were attacked? We couldn't make it dangerous ourselves, but he
determined the sit-in demonstrations were dangerous, and any young person
sixteen years of age and under who participated in a sit-in demonstration would
be arrested. That adult person responsible for that young person being involved
in the demonstration would be arrested and charged with contributing to the
delinquency of a minor. All of this was in a very veiled and obviously overt
attempt to make sure that the NAACP was not successful.
D: Was all of this activity in Jacksonville under the auspices of the NAACP?
H: All of it.
D: So there were no other civil rights organizations.
H: Yeah, Jacksonville has always been what we call an NAACP town.
[end side A 1]
D: What do you remember the attitude of the teachers and the parents were at this
time about their children sitting in?
H: They were anxious, my mother included. Other parents said, go right ahead,
whatever, totally supported [what we were doing]. My grandmother totally
supported everything I did. My mother supported it, but supported it more as it
[progressed]. My mother and my father were not together, but my father, who
worked downtown as a waiter at a hotel, just absolutely hit the ceiling. He said
that I was-he gave all the terms-I was rabble-rousing, I was interfering with what
white people were doing, I could even cost him his job if they knew who I was
and knew that I was his son and all that garbage. But no one ever told me to
stop. Mother did not even intimate that she wanted me not to be involved or not
serve as president of the Youth Council of the NAACP. I was young; I was
always two years ahead of my class because I started school young and skipped
a year. So when I graduated at sixteen, most of my classmates were eighteen. I
was sixteen I had graduated from high school that year in June. But yeah, there
were parents who were anxious.
When I came to Edward Waters [private, historically black college located
in Jacksonville] in September of that year, interestingly there were a number of
teachers who had come to work here who had been at other schools in
Columbia, Allen University and Benedict [College] in Columbia, South Carolina,
in Atlanta. Because in most cities where there were sit-in demonstrations and
there were college campuses, some of those college students were either
expelled or suspended, and some of the teachers had been fired from some of
the schools for actively supporting students, and some of those teachers ended
up being here at Edward Waters when I enrolled. So that was a good thing.
The other thing is that Edward Waters was threatened. The city gave $25,000
to Edward Waters, $50,000 to JU. The county gave $50,000 to Edward Waters
and $100,000 to JU. When it was determined that I had enrolled here, and even
though I had won scholarships to go to other colleges, my mother couldn't afford
to send me off to school. So I ended up enrolling in Edward Waters on the
scholarship that they gave me after I couldn't take the UNC scholarships. The
president was told that if I came to Edward Waters along with a young lady who
was the secretary of the Youth Council, that if we came here that the city and the
county would cut off money to the school. The president brought our
applications before the faculty. Needless to say, the faculty said, if they can't
come to school then we don't need to be open as a school, and that's one fo the
few times, as I understand it, that a student admission application was voted on
by the staff. I don't think it ever came to a vote, I think it was just the acclamation
they said, hey, they should be here. There were anxious moments.
As passive as it sounds now, and it's hard today, some forty-four years
later, to understand [it] if you cannot transpose yourself into what it was then, but
just a white person talking to a black would cause a white person to be called a
"nigger lover." Or a black person to be walking down the street talking to
someone white could result in a visit from what they called the "night riders" or
the Klan or whomever that might result in the house being bombed or whatever.
So certainly, if a number of young black people sat-in at the heretofore forbidden
white lunch counter, that was very serious and that was very confrontationall,
and the response was always violent. Now understand we're talking about
eighty-four [seats], and even though the lunch counter was not always
completely empty when we got there, we were always sitting sixty and seventy
students. One day, and I've got a picture of an old white man who whittled the
tip of his walking cane, had a rubber cap on the bottom which he took off, [he]
whittled the tip of his cane and walked behind each of us sitting in and stuck us
in the back with his walking cane. Whenever we would have a demonstration
they would close the lunch counter and we would get up, we would always be
kicked from our neck down-nothing real overt because sometimes it would be
ladies who would be watching and cat-calling and we would get kicked, stuck
We had a number of white sympathizers who would sit-in with us. After a
while what Woolworth's began to do, the word would go out that they would
serve lunch at 10:30, I think they had served lunch at 11:15. The brother of one
of the persons who was sitting-in worked behind the counter as a dishwasher at
Woolworth's and he would always let us know, they're going to start serving
today at 10:00 or they're going to start serving today at 11:15 or whatever. So
we would always be there before they started. What they started doing, in fact-
ironically, a bay basically looked like the way this desk is designed, so they would
keep a bay open. They would go on and close the rest of it, and what would
happen is those whites who wanted lunch would stand behind a person who was
already sitting there and so when you would get up, then another white person
would sit down, and that's how they continued serving lunch. Then one day, it
might have been the second or third day they did this, there were some Navy
wives who came down, there must have been eight, nine, or ten of them. I don't
know if they were [there] to show sympathy or support for us, but they went to the
bay where they were. Now the bay is like this, so some of us are sitting in
between the bays in seats and then in other bays. So they filled up all of the
seats around the bay. So let's say if I'm sitting here or if I'm sitting here, then
there is a Navy wife, and even though she is facing in like on the picture when
they closed the lunch counter, she's still able to turn and talk to me. So she
turned and started a conversation. They ordered food and as they ordered food,
and this one particular lady ordered an extra coke or extra whatever, she shoved
it over in front of me-which was a good effort but it's not like we were there just
to drink a coke or just to eat a hotdog-but in her way that was how she was
showing support for what we were doing.
As I look back on what she did, it further exposed the hypocrisy of the
system that somehow if I sat at the white lunch counter, I was beneath the social
status of whites who sat there because here was a white female who legally I
should not have had any relationship to, certainly not to sit next to her, who was
willing not only to sit by me, but in effect share a soda. I would imagine if
circumstances would have dictated, she would have put two straws in-it was one
of the fountain sodas with the paper cup that sat down in the plastic
container-she would have put two straws in the cup and we would have drank
out of the same cup. You have so many stories about what happened. There's
so many small things. The major things always are going to make the
papers-the confrontation, the violence. The small things you're only going to get
from folk who had first hand experiences of what was going on.
D: What was the police response at this time?
D: There weren't any arrests at all?
H: There were arrests late that Saturday afternoon, some of the whites who were
involved got arrested. We never knew how many were arrested. We do know
that there was a white male who was participating with us, his name was Richard
Parker-a student from Florida State. The Wednesday prior to Ax Handle
Saturday he was sitting in. Whites who were opposed to us always felt like that
if there were whites involved in sit-in demonstrations, they were the leaders of
the sit-in demonstration. So Parker was sitting in, and of course we were
carrying on a conversation while we were sitting there. We were taught when
we did our orientation for sit-ins not to say anything, but obviously if someone
wanted to talk [they would]. Parker was much older than the rest of us. He was
kind of nervous after what he saw was the reaction to his sitting there, so part of
our talking to him [was because] he always sat either next to me or to Alton-most
of the time he sat next to me even though I was considerably younger than him.
Parker I think at the time was twenty-three, I was sixteen, so both in
chronological years and maturity level he was older than me.
One particular day we were sitting in and got the word that they were
building the Florida National Bank building right next to Woolworth's.
Woolworth's was on the corner of Hogan and Monroe, so right across from
Hogan and Monroe on the same side-if you went downtown today, the new
federal courthouse is on the site where Woolworth's and JCPenney's were.
They had a common wall and you walked and there was a door that opened and
you walked from JCPenney's into Woolworth's. Anyway, they were building the
Florida National Bank building, and one day some construction workers came
into Woolworth's and stood behind me and Parker. Well, there were other
people there, but these guys were standing behind me, and one guy had a
rope-not just a regular rope, but like the huge hip rope. Another guy had some
tools in his pocket-a big size wrench. It might not have been as large as I
thought they were at the time. But the word that we got was that they were
coming to lynch, they were going to take him off his seat and string him up and
hit him in the park. Now you can look back today on that years ago and you
say, how ridiculous, they weren't going to do anything like that, but it's not until
today as stories have come out about what happened in the civil rights
movement and some of the things that happened to people that you realized that
was very, very possible.
We didn't call them a gang-I guess today's vernacular would call them a
gang, although they were not involved in drugs. They were more of an array of
traveling buddies. They would be more inclined to physically fight someone as
opposed to shoot someone or be involved in any kind of drug trafficking-and they
were called the Boomerangs, and they all lived in the Blodgett Homes. Blodgett
Homes was a federal project area about a mile or less from downtown
Jacksonville. But somehow or another the word got back to them that
something was getting ready to happen downtown.
D: Is this the day of or a couple days leading up?
H: Yeah, this is like that Wednesday. Anyway, they came into Woolworth's.
Rutledge might have told them, and I don't recall he and I ever having a
conversation about this, but they knew, and they came in. I've got pictures; they
physically lifted him up-the Boomerangs, all black teenagers-and they formed a
circle around him. Even though there were by this time ten to twelve
construction workers there. They walked Parker out of Woolworth's into the
middle of Hogan Street, walked down Hogan Street-later pictures I have show
them on the sidewalk-and walked him out of danger as it were. So that was
Wednesday. Thursday, Parker was back, Friday he was back, he didn't sit in that
Saturday at Grant's, Ax Handle Day.
Now it's Sunday, and we've called a mass meeting at St. Paul AME
Church. Parker is sitting in Hemming Park with a suit on and a tie waiting to be
picked up to go to the mass meeting. The police, who obviously recognized him
and knew who he was, came and did whatever and arrested him and charged
him with vagrancy. [He] had $35 in his pocket, had on a suit and a tie, [and] put
him in the same cell with some of the whites that they had arrested the day
before for disturbing the peace and inciting to riot- although none of the whites
were ever charged with inciting to riot-and told the persons in the cell who he
was; as a leader of, whatever they said. They promptly proceeded to beat him
up, dislocate his shoulder, and break his jaw in about two or three places.
So the mass meeting started and we didn't know where Parker was.
Someone said, well, maybe he went back to Tallahassee or whatever. A week
goes by, anyone seen or heard from Parker? No. A jail trustee got word back
to us that a white guy who was with you all who was involved in the sit-in
demonstrations is in jail. So Earl Johnson, who was an NAACP attorney, went
down. First he was told no [that Parker was not there]. Then he asked for
different variations of the name, R. Parker, R.C. Parker-because his name was
Richard Charles Parker-Park, whatever way the name could come up, the name
never came up. He left, went back down, checked another avenue that he had,
found out that Parker was there, went to a judge. The judge did not have any
choice but to make the police identify that he was there and then let Earl get in to
see him. Well that's when he found out that he had his jaw broken in several
places and his jaw had been wired shut, and they were serving him solid food.
Now this is a week plus later. He had never had any milk, he had never had any
kind of supplemental food, so the only liquid he got was water and the only food
he got was solid, which he could not do anything with. Earl asked, why is he not
getting any milk? [They said], we can't afford milk, we don't have a budget for
milk, he had no business being down there, whatever. Earl went back to the
judge and the judge basically said, well we can't make them give him milk. [He]
left the circuit court and went to the federal court. The federal court said initially
that they did not have jurisdiction and never did make them give him milk, but we
provided milk to the jail to feed Parker, and Earl on a daily basis for a period of
time visited to make sure that Parker had gotten milk.
The municipal judge who was involved was very infamous-Johnson
Santora-he got into another racial incident just a few years ago. He's since
passed. Santora was the one who eventually sentenced him [Parker] to ninety
days for vagrancy, and that sentence was later thrown out by a federal judge.
Parker also had a bank account here in Jacksonville too, so there was nothing
about his profile that even remotely fit someone being considered a vagrant. He
was later killed in a sit-in demonstration or some kind of demonstration in
Mississippi in 1964.
D: Part of the Freedom Summer?
D: The police would maybe come downtown and poke in what was going on, but
never arrested you or took you out.
H: We never saw any police presence during the sit-in demonstrations, and we
never thought about safety, but a policeman is something that you don't miss. A
person who is a police officer who is anywhere in close proximity does not blend
into the scenery. There is no camouflage about a police uniform; you know if a
policeman or policemen are there. Duval County, Jacksonville, had the local
police department and also had a county patrol, so there were two law
enforcement agencies. City police could only work within the city. County
police had jurisdiction in the city and also in the county, but we never saw them
until the day of the riot and we went back to the Laura Street Presbyterian
Church youth center where we would meet for demonstrations or the groups
emanated from. They tried to arrest us out of church property.
D: This is the morning of?
H: This is the afternoon of August 27, after the riots. There were like twelve of us
on the porch of the youth center, some people are crying, some were beaten and
hit and others were discussing what had gone on. I'm trying to find a picture for
you that I had. But anyway, up comes the county patrol to arrest some of us from
our church property. The minister, who was a minister that was about 5'5",
basically said to them, you will not arrest anybody from our church. That picture
was in Life magazine.
[Shows photo] That was a young man who was downtown. There are
other pictures that I have that kind of lead up to that, but he was not involved in
sit-in demonstrations. He happened to be a classmate of mine, he graduated
from the same high school that I did a year later. He was just downtown
shopping and he was attacked. But again, no police presence during any of the
demonstrations. [We] never saw any policemen in any of the stores, never saw
any police downtown while any of the attacks were going on. It was not until
black folk tried to make their way downtown to provide some semblance of
support for the blacks who were being beaten that they blocked off downtown
and police cars just literally came from everywhere.
D: Did you hear any rumors that the Klan or a group of people were planning
H: The morning of August 27, there was a truck that was parked along Hemming
Park. There was a sign up that said, get your free ax handles here. There
were several white men in Confederate uniforms walking around. Rutledge got
a call about it, drove down, came back, picked up a couple of us, [and] we drove
down and came back. We made the decision we'll still do the demonstration, we
just won't bring the full group into Woolworth's, we'll go to Grant's that particular
day. We saw the sign that said, get your free ax handles here, [but] we didn't
know about the baseball bats-not that it would have made a difference. We did
not envision anyone attacking us, we did not envision a full blown mob of 150
plus attacking us with ax handles and baseball bats and other blacks who were
in the downtown area. Had we known they were going to do that would we have
still sat in that day? Probably, because at our ages, you just didn't internalize
danger the same way. Maybe we wouldn't have believed it, I don't know, but
you felt it was something you had to do, which is why in many instances, people
have died in other sit-in demonstrations, and even though you know there's the
possibility that you will be killed-that's always possible, you know it more today
than you did then-but no one participated in demonstrations with a conscious
thought that I could die today or someone might viciously attack me today. Fear
was never a factor that made any decisions for us.
D: Now the Boomerangs had shown, as you mentioned earlier, that they were
willing to protect you with what they did for Parker, but still, to the extent that they
came out and protected you from the mob, was that a surprise?
H: They weren't members of the Youth Council and they weren't participants in the
D: So you weren't really in communication with them.
H: We knew them, they went to some of the same schools we went to. They
couldn't or didn't or wouldn't espouse any kind of an ideology of non-violence.
The Boomerangs were violent-they'd tell you that. For them to protect Parker
was something they had no problem doing. And not just the Boomerangs, but
other blacks who tried to make it downtown after the riot began, they probably
didn't need a lot of impetus to get downtown. Through all of that, we maintain
the non-violent thrust of the sit-in demonstrations. We always felt for a sit-in
demonstration or anything we were involved with, that you never tried to fight
violence with violence given those circumstances. We supported Gandhi's
position on passive resistance, and that was the whole basis for the sit-in
demonstrations. We were told if anyone hits you, don't say anything unless you
were in tremendous pain or bodily harm, then absorb some blows. The line was
drawn if any of the females were attacked; then obviously we were obligated to
come to their assistance. But on the whole there were never any situations
where everyone got poked in the back or spit on or kicked or whatever like that.
D: So you never actively went out and sought protection?
D: Were there lookouts or anything like that?
H: No. The day after the riot, when we had the mass meeting, Pastor Blain, who
was the pastor of St. Paul AME Church told us that they had gotten some bomb
threats at the church office. The mass meeting was that Sunday afternoon, so
they had Sunday School service and then morning service that day, so they had
received several threats during the day. Outside of the church, there were
several black men who were armed in cars. Of course, nothing came. St. Paul
AME on August 28, 1960 was a beehive of everybody you can imagine. There
were no remote trucks, but there were still cars that represented local television
stations. Even though one of the local stations, we know that channel twelve,
the NBC affiliate, got some film. In fact I even saw about five to eight seconds of
it within the last two to three years. I've never been to them to ask if I can see it
or whatever, but their photographer got on top of a car and was filming what was
happening. In that panorama of what you see and you take that photograph in
your mind's eye at that time, I clearly saw him being knocked off of that car by
someone with an ax handle. But there was no print media and there was
nothing else news-oriented to that at that time.
D: A lot of times you come across in the readings that there tends to be
disagreements or tensions between the younger elements of the NAACP who
are willing to go to greater efforts to initiate change as opposed to maybe the
more established, conservative members of the NAACP. Did such tensions
exist in Jacksonville?
H: It was never tension. The way the NAACP is structured, the adult branch does
not have veto power over activities of the Youth Council unless it's just so
contrary to NAACP policy. The president of the NAACP Youth Council and
advisor to the NAACP Youth Council sits on the executive board of the adult
branch. So even though a couple times we reluctantly told the adult branch
executive board what we were getting ready to do, and we were obligated to do
that, we knew that if we did that the word would get out, even under the best of
circumstances. Somebody's going to tell somebody who's going to tell
somebody that's going to tell somebody that's going to tell somebody, and then
someone else is going to know. When we started the sit-ins, the manager of
Woolworth's, his last name was Word, Herbert Word. We got to know him well,
and whenever we would come in I would speak to him, and those of us [that were
regulars]-he knew me, he knew Alton-we would go speak to him and we would
go over to purchase something. One time we got to the lunch counter and he
was sitting there drinking buttermilk, and he was saying, really there's nothing we
can do, our Woolworth's are not like that in other parts of the country, but we
don't have a choice down here. [ We would say], okay, Mr. Word, we don't have
a choice either. But to answer your question, there was no conflict. Again, it
was the first time this had happened. It was the first time, and I can't overstate
this enough, that as passive as it sounds today, it was very violent to confront the
system. Everyone was not in agreement with us either, even in the adult branch
of the NAACP, but we were in agreement with it and the adult branch was not
about to say we couldn't do it.
D: Eric 0. Simpson, the editor of the Florida Star, discussed that several of the
lunch counter managers or owners had actually gone to Haydon Burns and
asked to desegregate and he categorically said no. Do you know personally if
that's accurate at all?
H: No. What did happen, when Haydon Burns did not appoint a bi-racial
committee, we received overtures from the business community. The business
community met with representatives of the NAACP, and both the black ministerial
alliance and the white ministerial alliance in downtown Jacksonville at Hemming
at Snyder Memorial Church, which is no longer an active church, it has been
deconsecrated as a church and it's used by the symphony as a smaller venue for
concerts and different things, but they agreed and we agreed to appoint folk to sit
down and talk. This is [about] December of 1960. In March 1961, Marjorie
Meeks and I, after literally weeks and months of conversation, went to
Woolworth's, and Marjorie and I sat at the white lunch counter and had lunch five
days in a row. We were students at Edward Waters at the time, and after that,
all of the lunch counters in downtown Jacksonville were integrated-Grant's,
Woolworth's, Cress and Kresge. That was a full three months before the Civil
Right's Bill, and a little over six months after Ax Handle Saturday, but that was a
result of the business community deciding that they were not going to allow-we
were boycotting downtown-and they were not going to allow the boycott to
continue to cost [them].
Many folk really stopped shopping downtown, and it was a hardship on a
lot of black folk. Right about this time it was back to school and kids had to go
back to school with new stuff, and you couldn't get some of the stores to buy
school supplies. Some of the convenience stores started carrying clothes;
started selling things that you would ordinarily go downtown to purchase. There
were a couple of Jewish merchants, one in particular who was very supportive of
us, a guy named Marvin Ganson, a man who has since deceased. He was
always a contributor to what we did and among the persons who went the extra
mile to accommodate what we were doing downtown. Now it was economically
advantageous to him because if people were boycotting downtown, more people
would come to his store, which was somewhat centrally located within the black
community, but he was still very kind.
D: But leading up to Ax Handle Saturday, nobody had reached out in attempt to
negotiate or anything like that?
D: What do you think the overall significance was of Ax Handle Saturday in the
broader story of civil rights in Jacksonville?
H: Well I think Ax Handle Saturday, in the scheme of things, was really no different
than what happened in Selma, Alabama, what happened in Birmingham, what
happened in other communities where the quest for human dignity and respect
was met with violence. I think it just showed how one community responded to
another community, and I think that that's an overflow from the whole concept of
black folk not being recognized as full-fledged citizens. I also think that it said a
lot, too, for the kind of support, or lack of support, that came in from the
government proper. We sent telegrams to Kennedy, Nixon, who were running
for president at that time, and Eisenhower. We did get a response from Herbert
Brownell, who was the attorney general, who said they were looking into it and
investigating, and basically nothing. But we also got a response from John
Kennedy, who basically said that American citizens had the right to stand up for
their rights, and in some instances sit down for them-which we thought was very
significant because it was sit-in demonstrations. Later that year in the state of
Florida, in October of that year, Leroy Collins went on state-wide television as he
was ending his term as governor in support of sit-in demonstrations, which was
just extraordinary in the annals of Florida and southern politics.
The significance of Ax Handle Saturday also focused in on a problem, and
the problem was that segregation had a comfortableness about it. Segregation
and discrimination should never be comfortable, and Ax Handle Saturday
removed that rim, that field of things being comfortable and black folk being
satisfied and that we had good race relations and all of the other cliches that
come up when people try to explain race relations or what's happening in a
community. [They'd say], we don't have any problems with the coloreds, if they
don't have any problems with us, we don't have any problems with them, we get
along well, we don't have this, we don't have that, but we do, and I think Ax
Handle Saturday crystallized that.
D: Do you have any other issues you're burning to put into the public record? No?
Okay, then this includes the interview. Thank you very much for your time.