- Posted February 16, 2010 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Revisiting civil rights history
Axe Handle Saturday
Forty years ago this August, the people of Jacksonville, Florida will remember Axe Handle Saturday.
On that day in Jacksonville- as well as other cities around the south- black students and members of the NAACP had been sitting-in at local lunch counters.
This sit in was in its second week. This was a concerted effort by the African-American leadership all over the country; to defy the Jim Crowe laws, and stand firm together against oppression.
On August 27th 1960 the white segregationists of Jacksonville had had enough.
They pulled up 200 strong, filling up the cabs and beds of their pick-up trucks. They distributed bats and axe handles amongst their numbers. (some of whom had KKK affiliations ) They advanced upon the Morrison's and Woolworth’s and dragged the unarmed protestors out into Hemming Plaza, where they proceeded to beat them vehemently.
Some of the protestors took shelter inside the Snyder Methodist Church, barring the door once the mob threatened to follow them into the sanctuary. Those who did not make it inside got the worst of it.
It is important to note that this plaza is at the center of the business district in Jacksonville. Some random citizens, busines- people and passerby's- attempted to intervene; if they were white- the beating they received from the mob was extra vicious.
It was not until a local "street gang" called the Boomerangs showed up, and began to actually fight back, that the police arrived.
They then proceeded to arrest mostly protesters and the people who tried to come to their aid.
Of all the racially motivated offenses that these riotious times produced, this instance is seen as the turning point of the civil rights movement in Jacksonville.
This had happened in full view of many an office window, witnessed by children shopping with their mothers.
It s violence affronted the white community.
It was no longer just a problem somewhere far away like Montgomery, Al; it was something that this community had to deal with seriously.
I wish I could say that Jacksonville had come a bit further in 40 years. The truth is that race is still a big issue here.
In 2003, the then standing Sheriff, Nat Glover, ran for Mayor. He was qualified, received bi-partisan endorsements, and stood on a good record as Sheriff.
He was also the first black Sheriff in Florida Post-Reconstruction.
Jacksonville has never had a black Mayor.
Upon his defeat, Nat Glover's campaign headquarters was vandalized with racial slurs, as were many of his supporter’s places of business.
Another on-going racial issue in Jacksonville is the Namesake of Nathaniel Bedford Forrest High School.
Ironically, it is a predominantly black school, named after a confederate general, who later became the first grand wizard of the KKK. There has been much heated debate over re-naming the school, as of today the name stands.
The memory of Axe handle Saturday is preserved in our community to remind us of three things: That for as far as we have gone, there is farther still to go. That it takes the courage to make a stand, to make a difference. And lastly; for as long as we mark this tragedy, we can guard against the ignorance that incited it.