Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Church Apologizes for Racism; St. Augustine Methodists Hear of Pain Caused by 1960s Bigotry

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Church Apologizes for Racism; St. Augustine Methodists Hear of Pain Caused by 1960s Bigotry

Article excerpt

Byline: KEN LEWIS, The Times-Union

ST. AUGUSTINE -- Jacqueline Priester stood in the back of First United Methodist Church Sunday and recalled being told, as a child, that the black people outside could not come in.

"I started crying . . . I'm so sorry," Priester told the congregation.

A church that turned away black Christians and civil rights activists in 1964 apologized for its racism before scores of guests Sunday. Two women who were rejected as child activists returned to a place where people sought reconciliation 40 years after the fact.

"We regret our actions," said the Rev. Pat Turner-Sharpton, the pastor. "We regret the hurt we caused you. We ask your forgiveness."

Audrey Willis and Janice Boles accepted honors from the church and from St. Augustine ACCORD, a civil rights commemoration group. The women were warm, though the stories they told the audience reflected a harsh era.

"We were scared," Boles said.

An elderly white women had walked Boles and her sister to the church, which was surrounded by reporters.

"The deacon said, 'You can come in, but the little monkeys have to stay outside,' " Boles said.

"I would like to say to all of you that I forgive you because I am a Christian," she added.

Willis remembered another incident, in which she walked down King Street toward a church that was clearly prepared to deny her entrance.

"It was like a three-ring circus," she said. "The news had gotten out that we were coming . . . As we came, the police say, 'Now you all turn around and leave, or we're going to have to take you to jail.' "

She had told her mother to prepare some lunch if she wasn't back in an hour, Willis said. In the jail, the activists were being fed baby food made from peas and squash. Willis got a delivery of fried chicken and cake. She was released from jail before she could eat it, she said. Her bag of food was in such high demand that she just threw it into the air and let whoever caught it keep it. …

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