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St. Augustine's First Black EMT Says City Race Relations Haven't Changed Much Since 1960's

Flagler College

We may have come a long way as a country since the 1964 arrest of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. outside St. Augustine's former Monson Motor Lodge when it comes to issues of race, but one St. Johns County resident who was there says the city still has a long way to go.

Charles Smith was the first black emergency medical technician in St. Johns County. Born and raised in St. Augustine, he was arrested while wearing his U.S. military uniform in 1964 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

His sister, Yvonne Floyd, was among the activists who jumped into the segregated pool at the Monson Motor Lodge and refused to leave, despite manager James Brock pouring in what he claimed was corrosive acid, at the same time as Dr. King was being arrested on the steps of the motel.

Charles Smith spoke with Melissa Ross about his memories of the movement, and his opinions on race relations in St. Augustine today.

"They haven't moved too much forward, as far as I'm concerned," he said.

Smith also weighed in on the current debate in Jacksonville on whether to change the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School, named after one of the founding leader of the KKK.

"It's a disgrace to blacks, not only in Jacksonville, but anywhere else in the state," he said of the name.

This interview is  part of our continuing series on Black Heritage and race issues in St. Augustine in partnership with Flagler College.

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax and Patrick Donges @patrickhdonges.

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.
Patrick Donges served as WJCT's Digital Content Editor from August 2013 - August 2014.