St. Augustine's Role in Civil Rights History; Author Puts the Dramatic Events of 1964 into Perspective

By Cox, Jeremy | The Florida Times Union, October 5, 2008 | Go to article overview

St. Augustine's Role in Civil Rights History; Author Puts the Dramatic Events of 1964 into Perspective


Cox, Jeremy, The Florida Times Union


Byline: JEREMY COX

In his cathartic book, If It Takes All Summer, Dan Warren attempts to explain how the nation's oldest city became a landmark on the road to civil rights.

Although blacks accounted for a quarter of St. Augustine's population in 1963, black community leaders were excluded from the committee planning the city's 400th anniversary celebration. This exacerbated long-simmering racial tensions and triggered demonstrations, during which so many protesters were arrested the jail could barely hold all of them. In March 1964, things reached a boiling point when Mary Peabody, the mother of the governor of Massachusetts, was jailed after trying to integrate a motor lodge. Peabody's arrest attracted national media attention and more civil rights activists, including Martin Luther King Jr., to the Ancient City. During the ensuing standoff between white segregationists and King's demonstrators, Warren, a young state attorney, struggled to keep the peace while staying true to his belief in social equality.

In a lean 240 pages, Warren's attempts to stitch together the story of St. Augustine's racial strife, an analysis of the states' rights movement, a memoir and a political history. To the first-time author's credit, he nearly pulls it off.

Warren, a North Carolina transplant, grew up in a household that taught him that it is a "mortal sin to act superior to another human being." When he went to Guilford College just outside Greensboro, those beliefs were reinforced by the institution's Quaker traditions.

He joined other students in the late-1940s in attempting to integrate Guilford County's social services. Rebuffed by an uncaring official who asked Warren whether his father knew what he was doing, he replied, "No, but if he did, he would advise me to do what my conscience dictated."

In 1952, Warren and his wife moved to Daytona Beach, where he opened a law office. Short on clients, he ran for city commission, hoping the attention would drive business to his door. This gained him political contacts, including one who would assume the state's top office. Gov. Farris Bryant appointed Warren to a vacancy as the state attorney overseeing the four-county Seventh Judicial Circuit, in 1962.

Although Warren describes his benefactor as a politician "bound to the racist traditions of the past," he doesn't recoil, despite his liberal leanings, at the opportunity to take the position.

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