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"It was never about a hotdog and a coke"

Recommended reading from the Commission on Racial Justice & Reconciliation

One of the operative words in our Commission’s title is “Reconciliation”. In this context “reconciliation” involves a change in the relationship between persons. One of the significant elements of Reconciliation is truth-telling. We must know and face the truth to reconcile. The following forward to the book "It was never about a hotdog and a Coke" shares with us the value of knowing the truth regarding racial discrimination in Northeast Florida in the 1960s. The book is available at your local bookstore or on Amazon (ISBN-10 1595942017)

Submitted by Commission on Racial Justice and Reconciliation Member, Michael Foote

Foreword (to book)

by Rodney L. Hurst Sr.

I want to share with you a facet of Jacksonville’s history very few are willing to discuss, let alone embrace. Although its darkness may give Jacksonville’s reputation a black eye, the eye-opening details, when synthesized, provide a remarkable history worth telling.

It never ceases to amaze me how selective our memories are when it comes to situations filled with embarrassment, shame, and hurt. We choose to forget turbulent times rather than learn from them, as if not talking about them will make them go away. Just as closing our eyes does not cause us to go blind, shutting our mouths does nothing to erase memories or make events disappear from history.

Unfortunately, many whites and Blacks in Jacksonville, Florida have yet to grasp that reality. They have rationalized away the days of racism and segregation while insisting they stay buried in the past. On the surface, “Let bygones be bygones,” sounds plausible. But U.S. philosopher and poet George Santayana (1863-1952) said those “who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” To paraphrase his words, those who do not learn about their past will assuredly repeat it.

The civil rights movement in the late fifties and early sixties is a history of brave and unselfish Black leaders fighting against racism and segregation and for the equality of all people in the United States.

Most Black and white citizens of Selma, Birmingham, Memphis, Montgomery, and Atlanta are acutely familiar with the violent civil Rights struggles that occurred in their cities. Though the struggles in those cities may be more familiar, Jacksonville was not immune to the same type of cruelties.

Some books about Jacksonville’s civil rights history have the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) helping to organize the sit-in demonstrations in Jacksonville. One author wrote that events such as Ax-Handle Saturday legitimized Jacksonville as a progressive southern city. What a regrettably untrue statement!

It seems as if everyone in Jacksonville had a sit-in demonstration story to tell, well-intentioned or not, in these books. Unfortunately, many of their accounts, plain and simply, are not true. They inaccurately present information, misread and misinterpret the time frame of many of Jacksonville’s civil rights events, and quote individuals who were uninformed. You can make a comparison at your own convenience. It is not my intent to write a page-by-page critique of some of these books, but I have read enough of them to conclude that the authors lacked the proper perspective.

What I submit to you as a former president of the Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP, are eyewitness accounts, including my own. Trust me when I say we fought social injustice in Jacksonville as earnestly as those on the national level.

At age eleven, I joined the Jacksonville Youth Council National Association of Colored People (NAACP) at the invitation of Rutledge Henry Pearson, the Youth Council’s Advisor and my eighth-grade American History class instructor. At age 15, I would become president of the Youth Council NAACP. By the hundreds, young Blacks in Jacksonville responded to the call of Mr. Pearson to fight racism and segregation through this extraordinary organization.

The Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP represented non-violent, church-going, committed, and dignified young people determined to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem. They have held true to these values throughout their adult lives.

If segregation sought to remind Blacks of their perceived second-class citizenship in this country, then segregated lunch counters represented visible vestiges that served up daily insults. The time finally came when the Youth Council NAACP simply said, “enough is enough.” Disregarding the personal physical peril, members of the Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP made the decision to confront Jacksonville’s segregated policies and its accompanying Jim Crow laws.

Scores of Black heroes who participated in sit-in demonstrations surfaced across the United States. For the most part, those participants came from the campuses of Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). However, in Jacksonville, most of the demonstrators came from Black high schools. The peaceful protests of teenagers who dared to challenge segregated white lunch counters is not a myth or an urban legend. Nor is the attack by more than 200 whites with baseball bats and ax handles on 34 Black NAACP Youth Council members on August 27, 1960.

Today’s generation must understand the circumstances and the times that led to this racially explosive and violent day in Jacksonville’s history.

It is important to understand that because the philosophies of the Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP and Jacksonville’s political and social establishment were so diametrically opposite, violence may have been inevitable. Yet, in a strange paradox, the violence perpetrated on the Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP that day changed the fight for civil rights in Jacksonville.

In an apparent effort to cover up the violence against the Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP and the sit-in demonstrations that preceded that momentous day, local print media and local television stations conveniently provided little or no news coverage. Local documentation about Ax Handle Saturday is conspicuously lacking. Virtually no photos of that horrific day exist. Thankfully, the black media, even with obvious limitations, provided excellent news coverage.

Regardless of what you have heard or seen about sit-in demonstrations, it was never about eating a hot dog and drinking a Coke. It was always about human dignity and respect.

Blacks in Jacksonville endured an enormous amount of racism, discrimination, pain, and suffering in the fight for civil rights. They endeavored to leave a legacy and heritage from which we can benefit and of which we all can be proud.

It is my prayer that this book helps you appreciate the price they paid for freedom.


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