On Aug. 27, 1960, The Youth Council of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) engaged in a peaceful protest, sitting at a whites only lunch counter until they were spit on by attackers.
The 33 Black teenagers who attempted to integrate the “whites only” lunch counter were chased through the streets of downtown Jacksonville by 200 white people who beat them with ax handles and baseball bats, according to the Florida Historical Society (FHS).
Although the white thugs originally aimed for the protestors, they soon extended their violent campaign to any black person in sight. The authorities looked on as the blacks were terrorized and when members of a black street gang called “The Boomerangs” confronted the thugs, the police joined in the beatings.
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The victims only found sanctuary in a nearby church in the event labeled “Ax Handle Saturday.” The FHS reckons the Ku Klux Klan organized the mob attack while Rodney L. Hurst, president of the Youth Council the year the attack happened submits the “intent of the mob was to scare, intimidate and bring physical harm” adding, “Many times you could not draw a line between the Klan and law enforcement, because law enforcement were at least accomplices to a lot of the things the Klan did.”
And on its 60th anniversary next month, President Donald Trump plans to accept the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, mere miles from the attack.
Many view Trump as a divisive figure who has discarded concerns of blacks in the country not lest calling the Black Lives Matter movement, which in many cases is leading demonstrations against racist figures, “a symbol of hate.”
His views on the murder of African-American George Floyd while in police custody on Memorial Day left much to be desired.
President Trump had also planned speaking in Tulsa on Juneteenth (June 19) but after backlash moved his rally to June 20.
According to Hurst who was 16 but now 76, his group still did sit-ins for the next seven months. “There were countless more sit-ins and a boycott throughout the city. Eventually, lunch counters in Jacksonville were integrated in the spring of 1961.”
A commemoration of ‘Ax Handle Saturday’ is held every decade and for this year, Hurst plans to hold an outdoor commemoration with masks on and social distancing protocols observed.
Some residents are alarmed that Trump will accept the Republican nomination on the anniversary of the ‘Ax Handle Saturday’ given the volatile race relations in the country and the city in particular.
There’s concern protestors will show up while the president is in town leading to a clash with his supporters amid the Coronavirus pandemic.