Crist, clemency board express “profound regret” to Freedom Fightersby Dara Kam | December 9th, 2010
Nearly 50 years after civil rights struggles rocked St. Augustine, Gov. Charlie Crist and the rest of the state Clemency Board issued an apology to hundreds of black activists – some of them schoolchildren -as their first action at their final meeting this morning.
Crist, Attorney General Bill McCollum, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson approved the resolution expressing “profound regret” and clearing the way for hundreds of civil rights activists arrested in 1963 and 1964 to have their records expunged.
“I think it makes a great statement about where Florida is today versus where part of Florida was back then,” Crist said this morning.
Sen. Tony Hill, a black Democrat from Jacksonville, asked Crist to sponsor the resolution after he failed to convince lawmakers to pass a bill clearing the civil rights activists’ records.
Robert Hayling, a retired dentist who now lives in Fort Lauderdale, was one of the leaders of the “Freedom Fighters” movement in St. Augustine in the early 1960s. He was among the many in the audience, now considered heroes, as the panel passed the resolution.
“I’m still speechless,” Hayling said shortly afterward.
Hill, who was responsible for the legislature’s proclamation of an apology for slavery, shook his head as he recounted some of the horror stories experienced by those present, including Hayling’s rescue from near-death at a Ku Klux Klan meeting.
“Today, to have the governor say, we profoundly regret what happened to you all… Nobody ever told them that we apologize,” Hill said. “Two girls were put in reform school for six months. They poured acid in the pool while they were swimming…At least it didn’t take us 50 years to tell them we apologize.”
Read the resolution after the jump.
The Governor and Cabinet, sitting as the Florida Board of Executive Clemency, express their profound regret for Florida’s role in sanctioning the injustices perpetrated upon the courageous African American citizens of St. Augustine, St. Johns County, Florida, who, along with many others, were known as the “Freedom Fighters,” and who participated in the historic civil rights events that took place in that city during the years 1963 and 1964.
WHEREAS, the city of St. Augustine, St. Johns County, Florida, known as the “Nation’s Oldest City” became the center stage for Florida’s historical role in the great American human drama leading up to the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and mirroring the struggle of African Americans nationwide seeking freedom and equality of opportunity; and
WHEREAS, a local movement led by Dr. Robert B. Haling picketing segregated local businesses resulted in the beatings and jailing of several residents of St. Augustine and St. Johns County; and
WHEREAS, nightriders shot into African American homes and teenagers were arrested and placed in reform schools for attempting to eat at local lunch counters; and
WHEREAS, it took action by Florida’s Governor and Cabinet to obtain their release after a nationwide display of public outcry over their incarcerations; and
WHEREAS, these courageous individuals who were arrested and/or incarcerated in St. Augustine, St. Johns County, Florida, during the years 1963 and 1964 for their role in support of Florida’s Civil Rights Movement still have arrest records on file today; and
WHEREAS, even though the laws permitting such injustices have been repealed, it is important that the Florida Board of Executive Clemency acknowledge the injustices meted out to the Freedom Fighters who bravely demonstrated time and again against the shameful practices which were dictated by segregationist policies of the day; and
WHEREAS, the Florida Legislature, in Senate Concurrent Resolution 2930 passed in 2008, expressed “profound regret” for the involuntary servitude of Africans and freemen by the state and apologized on behalf of the State of Florida for its role in slavery;
NOW, THEREFORE, Be It Resolved by the Governor and Cabinet sitting as the Florida Board of Executive Clemency do hereby recommend that the appropriate governmental entities immediately act to expunge any and all arrest and conviction records, for which the related charges or convictions were dismissed or reversed by court order or for which the subjects were released without prosecution, utilizing the administrative expunction process in the most expedient and efficient means available at law to absolve these individuals from any wrongdoing associated with the aforementioned events and to forever remove such records for any future review other than historical documentation and duly authorizing the transfer of such records to the Florida State Archives to be made available for historical review or reference and to forever serve as a living and viable testament to their courage, ideals, and bravery during these fateful months in 1963 and 1964 in a city named St. Augustine, St. Johns County, Florida.