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Thirty-six years ago, St. Augustine’s first observance of the new Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday was history-making in itself. Florida’s governor and cabinet led the commemoration.
It was huge, according to The St. Augustine Record’s coverage the following day, Jan. 21, 1986.
“1,500 rally on MLK day,” said the headline.
Front-page photos by Staff Writers Harry Russo and Doug Shaver showed lots of people. Russo reported: “The City of St. Augustine opened its doors and its streets to the state of Florida Monday for a day-long celebration of what will become a year of reflection on the works of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and the ideals for which he became a symbol.
“About 1,500 people – Black and white – marched hand-in-hand behind Gov. Bob Graham and a Florida National Guard honor guard though the city’s historic streets from St. Paul AME Church to the downtown Plaza de la Constitución, where the governor signed a pledge, promising to live according to the ideals of equality, justice and brotherhood.
“Graham, upon arriving on the Plaza steps said, ‘We stand in a place which was built for slavery. Now we come to celebrate freedom.’’’
What came next prompted police attention.
Russo wrote, “Graham was promptly heckled by a young man, who shouted, accurately, according to historical society records, that the market was built to sell fruits and vegetables. He and his leashed dog were led out of the area by police.”
As I read the article, I went on a search myself for the latest research on that slave sales question. In 2001, I wrote about the slave trade in early St. Augustine. I called David Nolan, noted civil rights historian, about the slave sales question after reading the 1986 article. He researched the question years ago for then-City Commissioner Henry Twine.
“The market was built to sell many things, including slaves, and we have many old newspaper advertisements from that the1830s-'40s showing that to be case,” Nolan said.
That settled, I went through the article for what else Graham said.
Here is The Record’s recap of Graham’s comments given at a luncheon before the march for 500-plus officials and organizers:
“We must now seek economic justice together. We can’t rest until every child has a full stomach, warm bed and a chance to become somebody.
“We can’t rest until all labor is rewarded with equal opportunity. We hold this responsibility not for ourselves but for all people.
“King’s crusade should now become a crusade for all Americans.”
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As you take time to reflect on King’s legacy, reflect, too, on Graham’s comments. Are those goals fulfilled yet?
Start today off by joining The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee of St. Johns County, Inc. commemoration. The breakfast is sold out, but you catch it on your computer on Flagler College’s YouTube channel at 7:30 a.m. Hear keynote speaker Melanie Lawson-Minor, WJXT-TV anchor.
Will you be joining in?
This year’s theme is a quote by King: “No one is free until we all are free.” Fittingly, a relevant topic today, too.
Will you join the Day of Service, West Augustine cleanup, 9 to 11 a.m.? Meet up is Webster School, 420 N. Orange St.
Or, the silent march, Lincolnville to the Plaza, 11:30 a.m.? Meet up is 86 M.L. King Jr. Ave., across from St. Paul AME Church.
Or be in Plaza at noon for speaker Rev. Anthony Britton, New Mount Moriah Christian Ministries?
There is more too, at mlksjc.org.
Margo C. Pope was associated with The St. Augustine Record for 24 years, retiring in 2012 as editorial page editor.
This article originally appeared on St. Augustine Record: Martin Luther King Jr. holiday calls us to action | Pope's View