"The St. Augustine Four" Jailed for Sitting at Whites-Only Lunch Counter
The civil rights movement brought forth many heroes who set an example for America and the world.
Some were old. Some were middleaged. Some were young. Among the youngest of those heroes of the 1960s were "The St. Augustine Four": Audrey Nell Edwards, JoeAnn Anderson Ulmer, Willie Carl Singleton, and Samuel White.
Young people formed the shock troops of the civil rights movement, and many efforts were made to suppress them. One of the most discreditable legal efforts in this regard took place in St. Augustine, Florida in July 1963 when a local judge tried to force young teenagers who had been arrested for trying to order a hamburger at the “whitesonly” lunch counter of the local Woolworth’s to promise that they would take part in no more demonstrations. They were also pressured to say that movement organizer Dr. Robert Hayling was guilty of contributing to the delinquency of minors. Had they done so, said Dr. Hayling, "my goose would have been cooked”
St. Augustine, on the northeast coast of Florida was famous as the "Nation's Oldest City," founded by the Spanish in 1565. It became the stage for a great drama leading up to the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. A local movement, led by Dr. Robert B. Hayling, a black dentist and Air Force veteran, had been picketing segregated local institutions since 1963, as a result of which Dr. Hayling and three companions, James Jackson, Clyde Jenkins, and James Hauser, were brutally beaten at a Ku Klux Klan rally in the fall of that year. Nightriders shot into black homes, and teenagers Audrey Nell Edwards, JoeAnn Anderson, Samuel White, and Willie Carl Singleton (who came to be known as "The St. Augustine Four") spent six months in jail and reform school after sitting in at the local Woolworth's lunch counter. It took a special action of the governor and cabinet of Florida to release them after national protests by the Pittsburgh Courier, Jackie Robinson, and others.
In 1964, Dr. Hayling and other activists urged the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to come to St. Augustine. The first action came during spring break, when Hayling appealed to northern college students to come to the Ancient City, not to go to the beach, but to take part in demonstrations. Four prominent Massachusetts women--Mrs. Mary Parkman Peabody, Mrs. Esther Burgess, Mrs. Hester Campbell (all of whose husbands were Episcopal bishops), and Mrs. Florence Rowe (whose husband was vice president of John Hancock Insurance Company)came to lend their support, and the arrest of Mrs. Peabody, the 72 year old mother of the governor of Massachusetts, for attempting to eat at the segregated Ponce de Leon Motor Lodge in an integrated group, made front page news across the country, and brought the civil rights movement in St. Augustine to the attention of the world.
Widely-publicized activities continued in the ensuing months, as congress saw the longest filibuster against a civil rights bill in its history. Dr. Martin Luther King was arrested at the Monson Motel in St. Augustine on June 11, 1964, the only place in Florida he was arrested. He sent a "Letter from the St. Augustine Jail" to a northern supporter, Rabbi Israel Dresner of New Jersey, urging him to recruit others to participate in the movement. This resulted, a week later, in the largest mass arrest of rabbis in American history--while conducting a pray-in at the Monson.
The most famous photograph ever taken in St. Augustine shows the manager of the Monson Motel pouring acid in the swimming pool while blacks and whites are swimming in it. That horrifying photograph was run on the front page of the Washington newspaper the day the senate went to vote on passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964