Struggles of 1960s Recalled FCCJ Students Hear Civil Rights History

Article excerpt

Mary Ann Pearson remembers the old sayings like "Free by '63" and "Segregation has to go in '64" from Jacksonville's days of the civil rights movement.

But she also remembers something more haunting than words shouted across downtown streets: a man being beaten at Laura and Monroe streets, the image of which was frozen on the pages of Life magazine.

Pearson was among a handful of Jacksonville's civil rights pioneers who spoke to Florida Community College at Jacksonville students Tuesday about their experiences during the tumultuous 1960s and the city's racial history.

"The '60s were a very explosive time in Jacksonville," she said. "Of all the things that I saw during 1960, what happened on Aug. 27, 1960, is something that will live in my mind forever."

What she saw was a crowd of white men carrying ax handles purchased at Sears and Roebuck on one side of Hemming Park (now Hemming Plaza) and the NAACP youth council preparing to demonstrate on the other side.

"There were no policemen around. It seemed the mayor could not be found," she said. "The aftermath, the beatings . . . it made history all over the U.S."

The discussion was one of FCCJ's African-American History Month events, but speakers linked past struggles to present-day conflicts such as the NAACP's ongoing desegregation lawsuit with the Duval County School Board and nationwide opposition to affirmative action legislation.

"It is time for us to get back in the movement," Pearson said. "Start working now before [affirmative action foe Ward] Connerly comes to Tallahassee."

Another panelist, Eddie Mae Steward, became a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People when she found out about and started to speak out in 1967 against the School Board's decision to send 268 black children to a condemned building for school.

At first, the students would be joined by about 100 white children to alleviate overcrowding at Matthew Gilbert High School, she said. But during the summer, the board decided to send the white students to Matthew Gilbert and only the black students to the condemned school site.

After a year, parents, including Steward, organized and demonstrated in front of the school in 1968.

"Parents finally decided they had to take the situation into their own hands," she said. "We tried to get the mayor to close the school. …