Activists who participated in Civil Rights marches for integration in St. Augustine, FL in the 1960s were officially apologized to recently. Almost fifty years afterward, state politicians and officials passed a resolution that honors and apologizes to the marchers.
Law enforcement was asked to official eradicate all charges against the marchers. News sources reported that many of the now senior citizens had tears in their eyes from the unexpected gesture.
I don’t know if I would have cried as well. But fifty years after I’d been arrested and threatened, I might call the actions to be unexpected.
One of the men honored, Mr. Hayling, recalled from his experiences, ``My home was shot up. My family dog was killed within the house while my pregnant wife and two daughters were still in the house.'' Looking at how things have changed in his country and his state, he added, ``Even though we blazed a trail, there's still much to be done.''
The protesters honored included Purcell Conway, now age 62, of Palm Coast, who was 15 when he was beaten in his native St. Augustine. He grew up to become a New York City police lieutenant, and is now retired. He was one of the few on hand who was never arrested.
When asked why he had decided to protest, Conway stated, “I was just fed up with the way I was being treated. The segregation, the bigotry, the disrespect,” Conway said. He believes that the government and legal acknowledgements are “long overdue.”
I have to agree with Conway and Hayling. First, the honor is long overdue. These men protested nonviolently in order to bring about positive change in a segregated and racist southern community. What they did was not illegal. In a post-Civil Rights movement area with remnants of high tension and racism, it would be understandable that such tribute would not be offered to marchers. However, it would seem that fifty years later is a few decades past due.
Secondly, Hayling, who appreciates the government action, also notes that “there is still much to be done.” I wonder that if it has taken this long to pay tribute to and erase the legal troubles of the Floridian marchers, will other states in the Deep South follow suit and clear all charges? So many areas in the Deep South are still ridden with racism and marked heavily with ugly memories of the Civil Rights Movement. Just how far are we from acknowledging all Civil Rights activists as national heros?