by David Nolan
The civil rights movement brought forth many heroes who set an example for America and the world. Some were old. Some were middle-aged. Some were young. We, the 40th ACCORD do honor some of the youngest of those heroes of the 1960s. They came to be known as "The St. Augustine Four:" Audrey Nell Edwards, JoeAnn Anderson Ulmer, Willie Carl Singleton, and Samuel White.
Young people formed the shock troops of the civil rights movement, and many efforts were made to suppress them. One of the most discreditable legal efforts in this regard took place in St. Augustine, Florida in July 1963 when a local judge tried to force young teenagers who had been arrested for their civil rights activities to promise that they would take part in no more demonstrations. They were also pressured to say that movement organizer Dr. Robert Hayling was guilty of contributing to the delinquency of minors. Had they done so, says Dr. Hayling, "my goose would have been cooked."
Some were intimidated by the judge. But the St. Augustine Four, with the support of their families, refused to go along with this injustice. So the judge had them first jailed, then sent to reform schools in Marianna and Lowell. When NAACP lawyer Earl Johnson attempted to get them released, the judge claimed that they were beyond the jurisdiction of the legal system. National newspapers like the Pittsburgh Courier and the New York Times wrote about the case of the St. Augustine Four. It finally took an action of the Florida governor and cabinet to get them released in January 1964. Jackie Robinson was among those who praised them for their courage and he was certainly someone who knew about courage!
We, four decades later, want to say thank you to the three surviving members of the St. Augustine Four (and their families), and to honor the memory of the late Willie Carl Singleton. They are heroes of the freedom movement whose sacrifices should never be forgotten.
Copyright © 2004, David Nolan