Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

It Took Brave Young Men to Challenge Legal Segregation

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

It Took Brave Young Men to Challenge Legal Segregation

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee

It was 50 years ago when Jacksonville's segregated social order started to crumble.

It began crumbling beneath the weighty determination of black teenagers like NAACP Youth Council president Rodney Hurst; youths who became weary of having their money accepted, but their presence rejected at downtown lunch counters.

It began to buckle beneath the demands of people like Alton Yates, who served his country in the Air Force but couldn't come home and be served a hamburger at Woolworth's.

And it began eroding beneath the fierce leadership of the NAACP's Rutledge Pearson, a teacher who didn't want to have to explain to another generation of black youths why this country's laws barred them from full-class citizenship; why they couldn't play at certain parks, or swim at certain beaches, or drink from certain fountains.

So it was August of 1960 when Hurst, Yates, Pearson and numerous other protesters decided to change the order of things.

They staged lunch counter sit-ins and protests. And on Aug. 27, 1960, their push for first-class citizenship found them in a bloody clash downtown with racists armed with animus, ax handles and Confederate flags.

Justice or order?

That day came to be known as Ax Handle Saturday. And it stands out as an example of what can happen when an issue of injustice is treated solely as a problem of disorder.

The two are not the same.

I was barely a year old when Ax Handle Saturday happened. But the thing that has stuck in my mind, both from newspaper clippings and stories from people who participated, was the stubborn refusal from most of those in power to deal with the racism that forced the demonstrators to directly confront stores like Woolworth's and W.T. Grant.

Two weeks before Ax Handle Saturday, lunch counter demonstrators at Woolworth's were being poked in the back by a racist with a sharpened cane. Others endured racial slurs.

And they still couldn't get a hot dog. …

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