The FBI kept a close eye on St. Augustine through its civil rights struggles of the 1960s, as agents made hundreds of reports during the demonstrations and counter-demonstrations that led up to and beyond the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964.
Protests at hotel pools and whites’ only beaches turned angry and violent. Authorities responded with cattle prods and jail time. Bullets flew and houses burned. Martin Luther King Jr. and the national media came to the city.
Fifty years later, the FBI reports — teletypes, letters, eyewitness accounts, rumors and suppositions — detail the hatred and the tenor of the time in a clipped, yet chilling, bureaucratic voice. They cover a particularly violent chapter in St. Augustine, one that mirrored what was happening across the rest of the South as blacks demonstrated to be treated equally.
They also show the pressures faced by one of the key characters in that drama, hotel owner James Brock, known until his death as the man who poured muriatic acid into a swimming pool of black and white integrationists. His hotel was targeted by demonstrators, and then, after he agreed to abide by the law and allow blacks as guests, he faced threats and violence from segregationists.
The reports go on to detail how difficult it was to create a new kind of society even after the Civil Rights Act was passed.
That’s seen in a Jan. 16, 1965, letter from John A. Griffin of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Community Relations Service. He had checked to see how a biracial committee meeting at the Holiday Inn had gone. The woman he contacted, whose name was later redacted in his report, was “walking on air” about how promising the meeting had been.
Griffin, though, could not be so optimistic.
“She seems to feel,” he wrote, “that this may be the very beginning of a new day in St. Augustine. I observed that it is hardly dawn yet.”
Here are excerpts from some of the FBI reports, verbatim, with any misspellings left intact:
June 19, 1963: FBI report, Jacksonville
“A local radio station at St. Augustine, Florida, issued a United Press International news release on their 7:00 a.m. broadcast. The release has been killed in all subsequent broadcasts. This release stated that Negro leaders in St. Augustine, Florida, say they are arming themselves in case the battle for equal rights becomes violent … Few persons in St. Augustine heard the original broadcast but a few hours later garbled versions were sweeping the city to the effect that (Dr. Robert B.) Hayling had said, ‘Unless St. Augustine integrates right now, we will come out shooting.’ ”
June 20, 1963: FBI teletype.
“(Redacted) St. Augustine, Florida, received phone call from governor’s office today, requesting his sheriff’s office to investigate a traffic situation on the Bridge of Lions … According to the governor’s office, the bridge tender had reported to the St. Augustine city police that a car filled with Negroes was stopping on the bridge at various times interrupting the flow of traffic. According to the governor’s office, the bridge tender was told by the St. Augustine police department to quote Shoot them end quote. (Redacted) stated Dr. Robert B. Hayling is alleged to have said that he doubted that the St. Augustine city commissioners would meet with the NAACP today and if they did not quote all hell would break loose end quote. According to (redacted), the governor’s office advised him should Hayling make any statement threatening violence, he should be arrested.”
June 25, 1963: FBI teletype.
“From one p.m. to five p.m., this date, NAACP-sponsored picketings of the St. Augustine, Florida, Civic Center and Woolworth store. Picketing at Woolworth’s was done by five teenage negroes … carrying signs which read quote If we spend money here why can’t we eat here question mark unquote. There were no incidents and little attention was paid them.”
Oct 29, 1963: FBI report.
“A live hand grenade was thrown at one of the Negro juke joints … Two Negro juke joints were sprayed with buckshot and .22 caliber rifle fire by passing automobiles. As the automobiles moved farther along Volusia St., two Negro homes were hit with gun fire … “
Oct. 30, 1963: FBI report.
“On October 25, 1963, in the early morning four white men were driving through the Negro neighborhood of St. Augustine. One of these men, William D. Kinard, was struck in the head by a bullet apparently fired from a rifle by unknown persons. Kinard, who died from the wound, had a loaded shotgun with him and when he was struck the shotgun was discharged blowing a hole through the flooring of the car.”
Nov. 22, 1963: FBI report.
“On Nov. 9, 1963 (redacted) overheard a conversation in the Ships Bar … in which mention was made of a $500 reward for the death of St. Augustine Negro leader, Dr. Robert Hayling. (Redacted) does not personally know the three men, however, the men are local residents and (redacted) would be able to identify them if he saw them again. (Redacted) reportedly furnished information that many of his friends among the civilian population now carry loaded weapons in their automobiles … ”
Feb. 8, 1964: FBI report.
“Robert Sanders, state NAACP secretary advised the Tampa office that the home of (redacted) parent of a child integrating St. Augustine public schoos, burned to the ground. Several of the Negro homes had been shot into … At 1:15 a.m., (redacted) St. Augustine, Florida, advised that what appeared to be a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the rear of his house … Chief of Police Virgil Stewart … also stated that about 1:25 a.m., several shots were fired into the home of (redacted). According to Stewart, (redacted) was not at home and house was occupied by his wife. There were no injuries with the exception of a Boxer dog which was killed inside the house.”
March 20, 1964: FBI report, one of many under the subject heading “Racial situation, St. Johns County, Florida.”
“Doctor R.D. Hayling, … advised on March 20, 1964, that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, in conjunction with the NAACP, will stage two weeks of protest demonstrations against segregation … He expects the chaplins from Yale, Dartmouth, Amherst, and Boston Universities, along with approximately 60 white students from these colleges to start arriving … Mrs. Peabody, mother of the governor of Massachusetts, is expected to join this group.”
March 31, 1964: FBI report after the arrest of dozens of back and white demonstrators, including the mother of the governor of Massachusetts and the wife of a Boston Episcopal bishop.
“Associated Press story correct in use of cattle prods by law enforcement officers in St. Augustine. No dogs were used in making these arrests … Sheriff L.O. Davis had advised Negro leaders prior to demonstrations that he intended to use cattle prods if arrest was resisted.”
June 25, 1964: Letter from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s office to the bureau’s Jacksonville office.
“It is of utmost importance that Bureau obtain advance information concerning any Klan activities on the part of the white racist which may develop into violence … Concerning the leaders of the Negro demonstrations, you should impress upon them the necessity of keeping the United States Government, through the FBI and local local enforcement agencies, advised of their future plans in the racial field in accordance with the true American spirit of cooperating and preserving law and order in these United States.”
July 4, 1964: FBI report
“At five thirty PM today sixtytwo robed klansmen and klanswomen marched at St. Augustine, Fla, followed by a procession of approximately one hundred and fifty men, women and children. The group marched from the community center parking lot to the slave market where Connie Lynch addressed approximately four hundred spectators. Lynch’s speech included his usual comments against Negroes plus remarks as to the unconstitutionality of the Civil Right’s Bill.”
July 20, 1964: FBI report
“On June 30, 1964, BROCK and EDWARD MUSSALLEM, another motel owner, made an announcement which was broadcast on national television that the businessmen of St. Augustine, although not in favor of the Civil Rights Act, were law abiding citizens and would abide by its provisions … “
Later that report detailed how segregationists had picketed Brock’s hotel with Confederate flags and signs such as “N——s slept here. Would you?” Then it noted: “BROCK stated … under the present circumstances, he cannot comply with the Federal Law and stay in business. He, therefore, plans to continue refusing Negroes until he can assured of protection from white pickets and from possible reprisals in the form of violence.”
July 23, 1964: The summary conclusion of a Department of Commerce report filed from St. Augustine.
“Business leadership in St. Augustine may be psychologically ready at this time to meet on a bi-racial basis to negotiate a time-planned desegregation, given a top-flight Floridian conciliator as middle man. Requisite for their readiness to meet would be neutralization of the intimidating pressures of the Klan through proper police protection and the affirmative pressures of the Catholic Clergy. Additional pressure points exist and could be used quietly and covertly.”
July 24,1964: An FBI report detailed a narration by David Halperin, an attorney volunteering for the Southern Christian Leadership conference, which was sending blacks and whites to restaurants and hotels to see if they complied with the new Civil Rights Act. It was titled “Refusal — Monson’s Restaurant July 16, 1964.”
“The group drove to Monson’s to eat about 11:45 a.m. on July 16, 1964. Mr. Brock met them outside at the door. The following conversation ensued:
“Brock: ‘Do you wish to be served?’
“Brock: ‘I’m sorry but at the present time I can’t serve you.’
“(Redacted): ‘Is it because we’re Negroes?’
“Brock: ‘Yes, its because you’re Negroes and I’m white.’
“(Redacted): ‘Have you been threatened?’
“(Redacted): ‘Is that the reason you won’t serve us?’
“Brock: ‘Yes, and because at this time I don’t have enough protection either for you or myself. Don’t look back. There are four Klansmen in a truck passing now.’
“Brock then wanted to know where each of the group was from, and they told him. Brock went to say that he admired the group’s courage, but that if he were a Negro he wouldn’t go to any of the white places in St. Augustine because it wasn’t sage. …
“The group said: ‘Thank you’ and then left. They were unanimous in emphasizing that Brock had been very nice to them.”
July 24, 1964: FBI report
“Two Molotov cocktails were thrown through window Monson Motor Lodge dining room … Investigation being conducted as possible interference violation under Civil Rights Act-64 since previous day James E. Brock, Monson manager had agreed with other St. Augustine restaurant owners to reintegrate.”
Oct. 29, 1964: Report from John A. Griffin of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Community Relations Service.
“(Redacted) thinks it’s going to take some time for this community to be in shape to be helped by anyone from the outside, and this may well be true. He says there are only about two or three people in town that he can talk to about the situation. (Redacted), bank president, and (redacted), who is probably the wealthiest man in town. When (redacted) tried to take a moderate position he was crushed by his friends and long-time associates, despite his wealth and position …
“But despite some actual compliance with the letter of the law, this is still very badly troubled community in which there is no communication between whites and Negroes, and very little prospect of any. There is a terrific conservatism here that extends to many other matters besides race relations and this complicates very badly the efforts to do something about race relations.”
March 24, 1965: A corporation named St. Augustine’s 400th Anniversary Inc. sent a letter to a person whose name was redacted, explaining the group’s efforts to build an amphitheater and put on the “symphonic drama” known as the “Cross and Sword.”
“Since the corporation was founded, it has not had the perpetuation of segregation as one of it’s aims. Indeed, the amphitheatre facility will be fully integrated … and every performance will be open to anyone who cares to attend … A sub committee, of which Mr. (redacted) is a member, has been established to formulate plans to commemmorate the contribution our Negro citizens have made to the long history of St. Augustine.”
July 9, 1965: In a letter to President Johnson, a St. Augustine resident, name redacted, told how he was watching TV at home with six young people when he smelled smoke from a fire outside. Someone had put a flaming, kerosene-soaked beachball under the home’s 100-gallon tank of gas.
“Mr. Johnson, Tuesday was a sad day in my life, it depresses me greatly to realize that I am a tax payer in a society where I can’t enjoy T.V. in my home with friends … Mr. Johnson, I am growing worn and weary, and my patience is wearing. I don’t know how much longer I will be able to endure these conditions if something isn’t done to correct them immediately.”