While picnicking in the Plaza de la Constitución or strolling down bayfront, don’t forget to check out the city’s civil rights monuments that honor the activists and St. Augustine’s role in the civil rights movement. In the months leading up to the Civil Rights Act, passed in 1964, St. Augustine was making headlines nationwide because of the demonstrators that frequented the city. Among them was a legendary speaker and activist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but, he wasn’t the only big name buzzing around St. Augustine. King and fellow icons are honored by a series of civil rights monuments that are located downtown. These monuments include bronze footprints, a “public market,” an old dental office, and the very steps that King was arrested on in 1964.
Dr. Martin Luther King Steps
Hilton St. Augustine Historic Bayfront,
On June 11th, 1964, Dr. King was arrested downtown at the Monson Motel for trespassing. The motel, along with the white-only restaurant, were managed by Jimmy Brock. King and others approached the Monson and wouldn’t leave until they were seated. Consequently, Brock had them arrested. This ignited a trend of protesters jumping in the Monson pool regularly. In one instance, Brock dumped acid in the pool during a protest and made national headlines. The country was embarrassed and President Lyndon B. Johnson pressured Congress into passing the Civil Rights Act.
Even though the Monson Motel was eventually knocked down, the steps were preserved, marked by a plaque, and are located in the court of what is now the Hilton St. Augustine Historic Bayfront. On your next trip downtown, walk the short distance through the entrance of the Hilton and you’ll find the steps on your left.
In Lincolnville Historic District, by the USPS office, is a street named after King. While the civil rights activist was in St. Augustine he stayed in the homes, spoke at the churches, visited the barber shops, and walked the sidewalks of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue often. Janie Price was a friend of King’s and sheltered him on several occasions in her home at 156 M L King Ave. Price still lives at this location and her home is now marked by a plaque.
The St. Augustine Foot Soldier’s Monument
East side of Plaza de la Constitución
Prior to the protests and demonstrations in St. Augustine during the summer of 1964, the civil rights movement was at a standstill. The events in the ancient city made national headlines which pressured the President and Senate into passing the act when they did. The Foot Soldier’s monument is a statue of four nameless activists that depict the types of people which made up the groups of marchers; a black male in his 30’s, a black woman in her 60’s, a black teenage girl, and a white male student.
Public Market Place, “Slave Market”
East side of Plaza de la Constitución
The Public Market is a standing artifact that is a little under four centuries old. Prior to 1884, when slavery was abolished, it was a venue for human auctions, and is commonly referred to as the “slave market.” However, during the civil rights movement, it was used by activists and the Ku Klux Klan for speeches, protests, and demonstrations. Although the “slave market” isn’t recorded as a civil rights monument, locals often refer to it as one because of its extensive history, including slave auctions and protests during the civil rights movement.
ACCORD Civil Rights Museum
79 Bridge Street
The building that is now the ACCORD Civil Rights Museum, was formerly a dental office named Rudcarlee, for the three children of Dr. Rudolph N. Gordon. Gordon ran the first dental office in St. Augustine without segregated waiting rooms and was also one of the first black dentists in the state of Florida. When Dr. Gordon passed in 1959, it became the office of Dr. Robert B. Hayling, one of the leaders of the civil rights movement in St. Augustine. Now the building is a museum dedicated to the history of the movement. The museum is open by appointment only.
Andrew Young Crossing Footsteps
East side of Plaza de la Constitución, across from Trinity Episcopal Church
The Andrew Young Crossing memorial includes sets of etched bronze footsteps, and a series of quotes by Young, King, and President Lyndon B. Johnson. Young was summoned to St. Augustine by King in 1964 and asked to lead a march. Eventually Young and 300 demonstrators marched downtown across the street from the “slave market,” where an angry mob was waiting. Young approached the mob to reason with them and was beaten. Young’s assault and march on the Plaza de la Constitucion made national headlines.
St. Augustine’s participation in the civil rights movement largely shaped it into the modern city it is today. The monuments and artifacts scattered throughout Historic St. Augustine honor the brave activists, students, and shop owners that contributed to Congress passing the Civil Acts Right.
St. Augustine Historic Inns
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Photo credits: OldCity.com