Illustration by Zach Gasparini.

When Hasani Malone decided to move from Atlanta to St. Augustine to attend Flagler College in 2015, her mother made sure she knew what she was getting into. The 21-year-old journalism student’s decision made her one of the few black students in a city with an infamous history of racism.

One night, the summer before Malone moved for college, her mother made her watch Crossing in St. Augustine, a 2010 documentary about Andrew Young, a leader in the local civil rights movement who was beaten after he attempted to march into downtown St. Augustine.

“It’s fine. It’ll be fun,” Malone told her mother after the credits rolled.

Now a senior at Flagler and a member of the local Black Lives Matter chapter, Malone understands what her mother meant. Her education in St. Augustine has been marked by incidents of prejudice, from moments of “polite Southern racism” (like store owners following her), to online attacks, the bulk of which she received after protesting a local cafe, The Bunnery, for allowing an employee to work in blackface last Halloween.

“It’s not a welcoming environment for black people,” Malone said. “They were telling me I need to get out of St. Augustine.”

This dark side of St. Augustine is typified by two Confederate monuments situated in the heart of the city’s downtown historic district. Both monuments are owned by the city, but one, an obelisk dedicated to Confederate General William Wing Loring, is managed by the University of Florida’s Historic St. Augustine Board.

Since August 2017, a contingent of activists, organizing under the banner “Take ‘Em Down St. Augustine,” have called for the removal of the two Confederate monuments. They’ve held public meetings in the downtown square to raise awareness, voiced their opposition at council meetings and organized protests intended to disrupt the tourism industry. In May, members of Take ‘Em Down marched for three days from Jacksonville to St. Augustine.

“It represents something so ugly,” Malone said. “I get that people feel that it is their heritage, but their heritage is ugly and racist. They shouldn’t be proud of that.”

Yet the boards responsible for the monuments have shown little interest in removing them. Last October, St. Augustine’s all-white city commission voted to add historical context to its monument to deceased Confederate soldiers. UF’s board, also all-white, followed suit in June, agreeing to preserve the Loring monument.

In November, UF’s board will consider what to do now that it’s decided to keep the Loring monument in place. Options range from doing nothing to adding a new monument next to the Confederate memorial.

“It represents something so ugly,” Malone said. “I get that people feel that it is their heritage, but their heritage is ugly and racist. They shouldn’t be proud of that.”

President of UF Business Affairs Ed Poppell, who serves as the administrative head of the board, said the board is committed to remaining “impartial” above all else.

“Moving it seems to be everybody’s conversation, but it’s just a lot more complicated than that,” Poppell said. “We have a responsibility to do what the legislature asked us to do, and that is to protect, preserve and interpret history.”

Poppell said he spoke with the Loring family and representatives from the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center, which is dedicated to St. Augustine’s black history, and Fort Mose, the first free black settlement in the US. Poppell will present his research to the board, which will decide what to do next.

The Loring monument is an imposing, four-sided marble obelisk that occupies a busy street corner in the heart of downtown. The memorial is inscribed with information about Loring’s life and military career and calls for the general’s life to be “an inspiration to American youth.” An American flag is engraved on the eastern side and a Confederate flag is engraved on the western side. Loring’s ashes are buried underneath.

Activists point out the memorial was erected in 1920 in the height of the Jim Crow era by the Daughters of the Confederacy (of which Loring’s niece was part). The Daughters of the Confederacy are a group dedicated to spreading the “Lost Cause,” the notion that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery and racism but was solely about state’s rights.

“When we’re talking about the Daughters of the Confederacy … there was an intention there,” said Mary Cobb, the president of St. Augustine’s chapter of the Women’s March and an active member of Take ‘Em Down St. Augustine. “Something was tied into there to show that the South and the Confederacy may rise again, and that people should know their place.”

An overlooked but significant aspect of the monument is that the Confederate flag on its western side faces Lincolnville, a neighborhood in St. Augustine that was established by freedmen after the Civil War. 

“I think that’s a little disrespectful,” Malone said. “There’s such a large lack of black and brown faces in the downtown area. It just shows you, ‘we don’t really care about you, you’re not important to our industry.'”

In the 1960’s, Lincolnville was the base for activists like Dr. Robert Hayling, who led St. Augustine’s civil rights movement and was instrumental in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. St. Augustine does have a park dedicated to Hayling, but it’s isolated from downtown, has little parking and is located right next to a sewage facility.

While St. Augustine currently has markers placed throughout the city to educate people on some of its racial history — specifically the countless, documented acts of violence, intimidation and discrimination committed by the city’s white population — activists note these markers aren’t given the same prominence as the Confederate monuments.

“It’s getting smaller and smaller,” Cobb said. “St. Augustine is not the kind of place where you want to start trouble, especially when you’re starting trouble about race.”

“They’re so on the ground, they’re all small and level to you,” Malone said. “These [Confederate monuments] are in the air and high. That shows how important they feel it is.”

Lincolnville, now a designated historic district, is currently being gentrified and has seen a huge decrease in its black population. (As a whole, St. Augustine’s non-white population has decreased by 10% since 1960.)

“The price was paid by the African Americans in St Augustine,” Cobb said. “Basically they got pushed out. It’s something that [we] should be talking about.”

Most locals aren’t aware of the city’s racist history. Julie Abella is a local who was eating lunch by the monument on a Saturday afternoon.

“I’ve never thought about it,” Abella said, taking a bite of her sandwich. “I think it’s good to be educated about it, and maybe that monument helps educate people. To take it down, then nobody will hear the story, so then you’re kind of hiding it.”

Poppell cites the lack of public motivation to remove the monuments as a significant reason for their preservation. He specifically mentioned a survey funded by Save Southern Heritage Florida — a group that has fought Confederate monument removal across the state — that found 87 percent of St. Augustine’s population want to keep the Confederate monument.

“We have a responsibility to accept the values of individual communities,” Poppell said. “The values in St. Augustine is one of [sic] protecting and preserving history.”

Since the board’s June decision to preserve the monument, the movement for removal has been in flux. There has also been a decrease in local involvement due to the backlash they’ve received. In mid-October, the city commission announced its next meeting would propose an ordinance that would ban protesters from entering the plaza in which statues stand.

“It’s getting smaller and smaller,” Cobb said. “St. Augustine is not the kind of place where you want to start trouble, especially when you’re starting trouble about race.” 

Activists are laying low and biding their time until UF’s board votes in November to decide what to do next. Many doubt UF will be able to provide an adequate balance to the monument’s presence in the city. 

“[Loring] fought every oppressed race you can think of: American Indians, Mexicans – he even went to Egypt and fought against the Nigerians,” Cobb said. “How are you going to contextualize that?” • 

A (Brief) History of Civil Rights In North Florida 

Mary McLeod Bethune opens the Daytona Literacy and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls, which would later become Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach.
April 1949
Virgil Hawkins and five other black students applied for admission to UF’s professional schools. They are denied on the basis of race; the NAACP files a lawsuit.
December 24, 1950
Ku Klux Klan members murder Harry T. Moore and his wife for starting a NAACP chapter in Brevard County. An investigation reveals a network of local police and Klan members were violently suppressing blacks’ rights; no legal action is taken.
July 1956
Two FAMU coeds are arrested for sitting beside a white woman on a Tallahassee city bus. The black community begins a boycott.
December 1956
C.K. Steele, Dan Speed and A.C. Redd, three Tallahassee pastors, protested segregated seating on city buses by sitting in the middle of the bus instead of the back, ending the nearly seven-month boycott.
February 13, 1960
Local members of the Congress of Racial Equality hold the first sit-in at downtown Tallahasee department store lunch counters. A week later, FAMU and FSU students follow suit, sitting in at Woolworth’s lunch counter. Eleven are arrested and charged with disturbing the peace.
March 1963
Robert Hayling leads St. Augustine’s NAACP chapter in protesting the city’s 400th anniversary.
June 11, 1964
Martin Luther King, Jr. leads one of the first civil rights marches in St. Augustine. King and several others are arrested for attempting to integrate Monson Motor Lodge, a motel. King pens “Letter from St. Augustine Jail,” urging rabbis to join him in protest in Florida.
17-year-old Mamie Nell Ford jumps into Monson’s  segregated swimming pool in protest. Journalists record owner James Brock dumping acid into the pool in response.