Out of the Classroom, Into History

Out of the Classroom, Into History

Faculty and students document the St. Augustine Civil Rights movement in online archive donated by Andrew Young

Fifty years ago, St. Augustine was a very different place. Like the rest of the country, the Nation’s Oldest City was embroiled in the Civil Rights Movement, which brought with it hostile outbreaks between whites and blacks, arrests and more than its share of violence.

Now, a half century later, a group of Flagler College students is helping to shine a new light on both the good and bad of the era with a new project: an Internet-based multimedia archive documenting the St. Augustine Civil Rights Movement.

The archive is thanks to activist Andrew Young, who donated interviews and other material from his documentary, “Crossing in St. Augustine,” to the college’s Proctor Library. The film looked at the civil rights struggles in St. Augustine in the 1960s, focusing on an event in 1964 when Young — a key strategist and negotiator for Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — was brutally attacked while leading a peaceful march in the city.

To visit the online archive, go to http://civilrightslibrary.com

Young produced the film with documentarian CB Hackworth. Hackworth is now spending his second semester at Flagler as a scholar in residence, working alongside students from the fields of graphic design, history and communication. Their goal is to create an online repository of civil rights information accessible to anyone wanting to know more about the historic movement.

“The students have identified a variety of archival material that certainly I didn’t know existed and that when organized the right way adds layers of understanding to this whole series of events,” said Hackworth. “I don’t know if anyone has done this sort of approach, but when you add this chronology and compare to things that were happening in Florida and across the nation, you can really see the cause and effect of the events in a larger scale.”

Hackworth is also getting help from other Flagler faculty such as Assistant Professor of Communication Mark Huelsbeck, Director of Library Services Michael Gallen, Reference and Instruction Librarian Blake Pridgen and Associate Professor of History Michael Butler.

“The idea [of this project] is that local people will learn a little bit about their own history, and may be willing to share if they were in St. Augustine and contribute to the continuation and growth of the [Web] site,” said Butler, an avid civil rights and African American historian.

It was one of Butler’s students, Jillian McClure, who helped build the relationship between Young and Flagler in 2010 when McClure contacted the activist about a paper she was writing for her Civil Rights Movement class.

Micajah Henley was a freshman in 2010 when he first saw “Crossing in St. Augustine.”

“It literally changed my life,” the history major said. “The images of the civil rights demonstrators and the (Ku Klux) Klan fighting for what they believed in challenged me to study the movement as a whole. When I heard that this class was going to be offered, I knew that I had to take it. It has proven to be the best way to finish off my time at Flagler.”

For Leah Belcher, the project was a chance to step out of the classroom. “We’re tracking down people to interview, locating historical documents, and even sifting through FBI files,” said Belcher. “It isn’t like an ordinary history course. Most of the time I feel more like Sherlock Holmes uncovering clues than a student sitting in a classroom.”

Hackworth said what they hope to accomplish with this online project goes far beyond what he could do with “Crossing in St. Augustine.”

“In the film, sure this person can talk about being one of the St. Augustine Four and being arrested,” said Hackworth, referring to four youths arrested after a sit-in protest at a local lunch counter in 1963. “But now with this project, you can click and see arrest records and all the documents and interviews we have related to the case.”

Hackworth said the project is unlike anything he’s ever worked on, and he called it an interactive documentary that doesn’t hold you hostage to the ideas of the filmmaker. He credits all of this to the students.

“It would be very difficult for an independent researcher to do this on his own. But with these students, they come up with new ideas, have no issues contacting or interviewing anyone. They’re a real treasure,” he said. “All the students I’ve worked with on this project are amazingly talented people and that’s a testament to the kind of student that Flagler attracts.”

Henley believes what will make the website successful is the wide nature of its focus.“This site is going to do something that history books and even documentaries cannot do,” said Henley. “It will look at one particular movement closely by examining the perspectives of whites, African Americans, the youth and the adults involved, and those who did not want to be involved. It is going to tell the story using a scope that has been either neglected or forgotten altogether.”

But Hackworth assures that this project will not be one of laying judgment.

“I started out the semester saying this is not a good guy/bad guy issue. This will be a product of its time,” he explained. “The white folks here were really just doing what the rest of the nation did. Our job is not to lay judgment on anyone. We just tell the story.”

“What I love about the project, and what I think makes it unique, is the interdisciplinary aspect,” said Belcher, a history student with a graphic design minor. “All of the disciplines working together really made sense to me and I think the success of the project is going to be the collaboration between students of different backgrounds building this website.”

Hackworth said that the initial phase of the project will be accessible online in April.

From there, the sky is the limit.

“I honestly believe that this will be the most important source for research on the St. Augustine Movement,” said Henley. “It would be amazing to see other cities do something similar, especially places like Nashville, Albany, Selma, and other cities that the public and even historians know little about.”

Belcher agrees.“I don’t feel like I’m a part of a class project. It’s bigger than that, and I think everyone involved understands that,” she said. “I can only speculate how much the project will expand in the future, but right now I do know that it’s unprecedented research that should not only make Flagler College proud, but also the St. Augustine community.”

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