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St. Augustine Nonprofit Preserves City’s Civil Rights History

Frank Murry via St. Augustine Government

A St. Augustine nonprofit is educating the public on the city’s role in the civil rights movement during the 1960s.

The Anniversary to Commemorate the Civil Rights Demonstrations, or ACCORD, has worked for years to preserve St. Augustine’s history surrounding civil rights.

During an appearance on WJCT's “First Coast Connect,” ACCORD member, local historian and author, David Nolan, talked about the group’s mission and how locals and visitors can learn more about the efforts of civil rights leaders in St. Augustine.

“It’s been said that St. Augustine is the most famous place that you’ve never heard of in the civil rights movement,” Nolan said.

Nolan says the inspiration for the nonprofit was the rapid demolition of civil rights landmarks throughout the city.

He says he remembers sitting through countless meetings dealing with the demolition of the historic Monson Motor Lodge.

People would claim the motel had no historic significance, even though a large civil rights protest occurred there.

“I thought well if we put historical markers in front of these places, at least they’ll have to think of something else to say,” Nolan said.

He says from there the Freedom Trail, ACCORD’s first project, was born.

Thirty historical markers throughout St. Augustine comprise the Freedom Trail.

“You can see for instance where Martin Luther King stayed, where Dr. Robert Hayling, the leader of the local movement had his home shot up,” Nolan said.

He says you can also see St. Paul A.M.E. Church where Jackie Robinson spoke, and even the Old Jail building has Freedom Trail markers now.

Visitors can walk along the trail throughout the city.

“We think of it as an open-air, 24/7 museum that charges you no admission, which is rare in St. Augustine,” Nolan said.

ACCORD’s second project was opening a museum featuring artifacts and documents from the civil rights movement.

Nolan says it’s the first civil rights museum in the state of Florida.

The museum is located in the Dr. Hayling’s dentist office. Nolan says he convinced King to visit St. Augustine and speak.

“Because that was his office, they had many of the strategy meetings for civil rights movement there,” Nolan said.

Dr. Hayling is also member of the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

Listen to the full conversation with David Nolan on Tuesday’s episode of the “First Coast Connect” podcast on iTunes.

Melissa Ross joined WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. During her career as a television and radio news anchor and reporter, Melissa has won four regional Emmys for news and feature reporting.