Article — From the January 1965 issue
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
St. Augustine was born of the sea, cursed by the sea, caressed and plundered, made, destroyed, and reborn on the bosom of great waters . . .
These florid phrases of the St. Augustine Historical Society, designed to lure tourists to the nation’s oldest city, have a curious pertinence this winter. Words like “cursed” and “plundered” and “destroyed” have come to apply not to what the sea has done to the Ancient City, but to what its inhabitants have done to themselves. After months of racial disorder, St. Augustine today is an exhausted little town, with worn-out people and a crippled economy; moreover, it is perhaps the most bitterly divided community on the North American continent. Massive hostility exists not only between the races, but also within the white population.
The city’s institutions of law and order have cracked under the strain, its leading citizens are in despair, its terrorists have adopted new tactics after an orgy of early summer violence, and its Negro community — 4,000 in a city of 15,000 — is both wounded and determined.
But worst of all is the silent fear of ordinary men who know their lives depend on avoiding the threatened night ambushes, the Molotov cocktails, and the sniper attacks. St. Augustine’s Negro leaders have lived with this fear for over a year, and, in the “quiet” days that followed the nationally publicized demonstrations, the same fear stalked those of the town’s merchants and restaurant owners whose offense was in complying with the Civil Rights Act.
In the rapid evolution of the summer-long crisis, the manager of Monson’s Motor Lodge, Jimmy Brock, became the victim of this irrationality. In June, Brock was the segregationists’ hero after the nation’s front pages carried photographs of him pouring a water purifier into the motel’s pool while it was being “integrated” by Negro and white demonstrators. Yet one July night, after Brock served Negroes testing the Civil Rights Act, Molotov cocktails ignited the Negro community — 4,OOO in a city of 15,OOO — is both wounded and determined. Monson restaurant in a $3,000 blaze; and in August, the chastened manager testified in the federal district court in Jacksonville that he was “a little frightened” and asked Judge Bryan Simpson to halt a line of questioning calculated to make him tell publicly who his tormentors were. It is a revealing commentary on lawlessness in North Florida that the judge, who had kept close tabs on the growth of organized violence over the months, granted his request.
By autumn, federal court orders against vigilante action had brought new hope but only a bare minimum of order. Weekly acts of violence against integrationists continued and so did the underground war of nerves against merchants. One white St. Augustinian confided, “We have absolutely no security against these people throwing a fire bomb at us sometime, someplace. Circumstances we used to take for granted just don’t exist anymore. It is fashionable to talk about peace now — we’ve taken a $7-million loss in the tourist trade, you know — but underneath there is this uneasiness you feel every time some nigger gets beaten up. You can’t help thinking you might be next. But don’t quote me.”
Amid such anxiety, the inhabitants of St. Augustine grope for an explanation of their disaster and find it in outrage, buttressed by righteousness. Everyone has his scapegoat, but everyone wonders: How did it happen to us?
Implicit in this puzzle is a larger one: In the rural, old cotton South, reaching through Georgia and Alabama to the Mississippi delta and up the eastern shores of the Carolinas, there are a thousand towns and hamlets like St. Augustine, sharing the same attitudes, the same social structures, the same ferment among Negroes, the same relatively small area of maneuver in times of racial showdown. Will the tragedy of St. Augustine be repeated endlessly during the next few years across this rural heartland? Will most of these places also surrender to anarchy? Or can there be hope for a pattern of peaceful transition such as has taken place already in Gainesville and Daytona, both within sixty miles of St. Augustine? And are there lessons for the rest of the nation in what happened to America’s oldest city?
I went to St. Augustine after the first hint of violence last May. With the requisite Southern accent and hopes for the special rapport it sometimes establishes for an “outsider,” I wanted to find some answers — from the political and commercial leaders, from the integration forces, from the klansmen, from the sheriff, and from the nightly scenes at the slave market in the heart of the city.
But, ironically, the first thing any “outsider” finds in this tourist city is that he is not wanted. Police study his press credentials minutely and volunteer their views on the quality of contemporary reporting (“Why don’t you-all print the truth instead of all these lies that help the niggers?”).
Throughout the events of June, the views of the city’s officials corresponded in tone and substance to those of the patrolmen on the beat. Mayor Joseph Shelley maintained a consistent stance against biracial commissions or other peacemaking machinery, Police Chief Virgil Stuart[*] and St. Johns County Sheriff L. O. Davis are tough-minded segregationists, judged by even the strictest Deep South criterion.
[*] Stuart later commented on Martin Luther King's being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize: "I consider it one of the biggest jokes of the year. How can you win the peace prize when you stir up all the trouble he did down here?"
Real political power in St. Augustine originates with the town’s leading citizen, H. E. Wolfe, a wealthy general contractor and banker and a key member of St. Augustine’s Quadricentennial Commission. Though the group hopes to get federal money to celebrate the city’s four-hundredth anniversary with a splash this year, it repeatedly has risked losing the funds by asserting an adamant segregationist stand at critical periods.
Another political gradation in the city’s fairly closed ruling elite is that of Dr. Haygood Norris, “our town’s most respected ultraconservative,” as one local leader put it. He heads a group of professional men, many descended from the city’s old families. A second, somewhat less influential group consists mainly of motel and restaurant owners who depend largely on the tourist trade and, hence, are considerably more flexible in racial matters (though only in off-the-record conversation). Publicly, St. Augustine’s business community — led by Mayor Shelley and supported powerfully from the wings by Wolfe — swears by the status quo. Their denunciations of Martin Luther King and also of the local integration leader, a thirty-four-year-old Negro dentist named Dr. Robert Hayling, are emphatic.
The tension of the white community in St. Augustine — as in other racially troubled Southern cities — is difficult to describe. The atmosphere seems so oppressive that conversations are ponderous, guarded, and full of sighs. When Florida’s segregationist Governor Farris Bryant banned night demonstrations, he inspired almost desperate hopes — even though he still permitted early evening as well as daytime confrontations. As the business leaders refuse to yield in each new crisis, little groups of merchants gather and talk, but no one comes up with any concrete moves to cope with “the problem.” Everyone tends to retreat to safe ground, such as denouncing Martin Luther King or Dr. Hayling. In this manner a kind of unanimity-by-omission comes to characterize public discussion.
The only person who speaks with conviction about what the city’s specific policies should be is fifty-year-old Holstead (Hoss) Manucy, klan-oriented leader of a group which townspeople call “Manucy’s Raiders.” His numerous, well-organized tribe roams the beaches by day and the plaza by night, and is officially known as the Ancient City Hunting Club and less officially as the “Gun Club.” Manucy has repeatedly denied that his club is a local branch of the Ku Klux Klan, but carefully retains a folksy diplomacy in his denials. “I’m not a member of the klan — I’m Catholic — but I’m not knocking it either. I think the klan is a very good organization,” Hoss explains. Manucy is a Hollywood director’s dream of what the Southern redneck should look and act like. His local reputation as a moonshiner (“Hoss was a farmer. He ran a forty-barrel farm”) helps complete the casting instructions. Manucy’s Raiders sport Confederate flags from their car radio aerials and communicate through citizens’ band VHF radio equipment in their cars. Local Negroes complain about his friendship with Sheriff Davis, who named him an honorary special deputy. Several of Manucy’s men were sworn in as deputies during the racial demonstrations before this arrangement was criticized by a federal judge.
Amidst the vague rhetoric of St. Augustine’s business community, Manucy’s bluff candor comes through loud and clear. “My boys are here to fight niggers,” he explains. Martin Luther King? “He’s a nigger. He’s an outside nigger and we don’t put up with outside niggers in St. Augustine. He’s a Communist. That’s a proven fact.” The final outcome of the St. Augustine situation, says Hoss, will be that “the niggers are going to lose. There is no way they can win.” His plan after the Civil Rights Bill passed: “Going to fight niggers.’
As violence brought the national television networks to St. Augustine, it was Hoss Manucy who emerged as the city’s spokesman. The year-long saga of his rise to power tells the real story of St. Augustine.