Article — From the January 1965 issue
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the breakdown begins
In June 1963, after three months of futile efforts by Negroes to induce city officials at least to discuss their grievances, Negro students marched downtown and sit-in demonstrations began. The next night, whites invaded the Negro neighborhood and rock fights ensued which escalated into gun battles in the following days.
Most “moderates” in St. Augustine are reluctant to talk about this period, but one businessman said, “The breakdown of law enforcement really began right then. It was common talk in town who was leading those armed gangs. They’d go down there and open up on Hayling’s or Goldie Eubank’s house [both NAACP leaders] and the Negroes guarding them would fire back.” No one was ever convicted. The intransigence of the city fathers and the abdication of the moderates had begun to show.
However, the nightly skirmishes did bring about the first and only meeting between Negroes and whites for the official purpose of trying to work something out. The meeting started badly and ended in shambles. One white representative “allowed as how” the Kennedys and the Communists were behind all racial agitation, and another read from a pamphlet in which he substituted the word “nigger” for Negro each time it appeared. Dr. Hayling protested, and when one white person present suggested to the white leader that he might, in the interests of harmony, use the correct form, he did so. When the indecisive session ended, Dr. Hayling wryly remarked that the meeting “at least accomplished one thing — one of us has learned a new word.” That ended St. Augustine’s brief experiment in biracial meetings.
The next day, Hayling received the first phone calls threatening his life. He then made what he now regards as “naive” requests to federal authorities for protection. “I was new to the civil-rights movement then and you can imagine my shock when they referred me to the local police!” As the threats multiplied over the next several days — around the time of Medgar Evers’ death — Hayling called up the United Press bureau in Jacksonville. “It was out of this interview that the quote came in which I was supposed to have said I was going to ‘shoot first and ask questions later,’” the dentist recalls. Though he denies making the statement, Dr. Hayling now concedes that he is not as nonviolent as Dr. King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference staff. “When they try to kill you and your family in your own home, what are you going to do?” On July 1, 1963, Dr. Hayling’s home was shot at and four young Negroes standing in front of it were hit by shotgun pellets. Following an FBI investigation, three white teenagers who were implicated named a fourth as the person firing the weapon. The four were arrested; the charges were later dropped.
The Florida Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights thereupon described St. Augustine as a “segregated superbomb aimed at the heart of Florida’s economy and political integrity — the fuse is short.” Mayor Shelley, however, issued a public statement blaming “the failure of the leaders of our nation [who] seek the minority [Negro] vote by calling the [white] majority names. . . . A biracial commission defeats the very purpose for which it was formed. It polarizes the white race and the Negro race and begins with the assumption there is a racial difference.”
Later in the summer, St. Johns County Judge J. Charles Mathis had four juveniles locked in the county jail because their parents refused to sign a statement saying they would prevent them from joining any more demonstrations until they were twenty-one. They were later transferred to the state reformatory. The action inflamed the Negro community.
In this climate, Hoss Manney’s Gun Club began recruiting members and the klan stepped up its organizing drives across North Florida. On September 18, a huge klan rally at St. Augustine took a bizarre turn when Dr. Hayling and three youths were caught near the scene of the cross-burning and were brutally beaten with chains before a robed assembly. After Sheriff Davis arrested four white men, they in turn swore out charges against Hayling, saying he jumped out of his car and pointed a gun at them. On October 16, 1963, Dr. Hayling was convicted and fined $100. On November 4, the four whites were acquitted.
Meanwhile, as Florida newspapers reported mounting klan activity and the Florida Civil Rights Committee called for an investigation by the Justice Department, the vigilantes stepped up their forays into St. Augustine’s Negro quarter. In October, a white man, William Kinard, was shot and killed while riding in his car a block from the home of Goldie Eubanks of the NAACP. Kinard was cradling in his arms a shotgun which discharged through the floor of the automobile when he was hit. Four Negroes were indicted in the Kinard murder, including Eubanks’ son. The NAACP official was indicted for murder himself as an accessory after the fact. Three nights later, two Negro businesses and a residence were blasted by shotgun fire and the following night a white residence in a predominantly Negro neighborhood got the same treatment. Mayor Shelley reentered the fray to complain that newspaper publicity was giving his town a “raw deal”:
“We are about as desegregated as we can get. And things are very quiet.”
Dr. Hayling responded, “Local officials are bent on getting revenge, not justice.”
When the new year came, two Negro families had children enrolled in “white” schools. In January, while the parents in one of these families were attending a PTA meeting, their automobile was burned outside the school. In February, the home of the second family was burned to the ground. In a second attack on Dr. Hayling’s home, his wife and two small children escaped injury but the family’s pet dog was killed.
The city stirred slightly. Breaking a long editorial silence on the crisis, the St. Augustine Record announced it was “high time” for some law enforcement. But the call fell on deaf ears; within three days, another car — belonging to a prominent Negro minister — was burned. Amid the subtly changing relationships in the white community, the terrorists were now a power in their own right. At the very least, they had achieved the passive acceptance of the ruling elite.