Story of the Freedom Hat

 — by David Nolan

Mrs. Katherine (Kat) Twine (1925-2002) of St. Augustine came to be known as "the Rosa Parks of Florida" for her devoted and courageous participation in the civil rights movement. She was frequently arrested by those who sought to break her spirit and crush the quest for equality — giving rise to a local joke that went:

"What's harder to break than catgut?"
And the answer was: "Kat Twine."

At the height of the civil rights demonstrations in 1964, more people were arrested than there were cells in the jail, so they were kept outside in "the stockade;" a treeless area under the punishing summer sun.

Mrs. Twine decided that she would combat this mistreatment by providing her own shade, so she bought this broad-brimmed hat, decorated it with a button from the 1963 March on Washington (where Martin Luther King gave his famous, "I Have a Dream" speech) and took it with her to wear whenever she thought she might be arrested.

Mrs. Twine's "Freedom Hat" is one of the great artifacts of the civil rights movement in St. Augustine, Florida.

In later years — when she was honored by the city with the road in front of her house being named "Twine Street" — groups of school children would come by to hear her speak about her adventures in the civil rights movement, and she would always bring out his hat to show them. The students would go back and draw pictures of it, and one year the lobby of a downtown bank was decorated with children's drawings of Mrs. Twine and her Freedom Hat.

After Mrs. Twine's death, the Freedom Hat was given to her godchild, Mrs. Gwendolyn Duncan who had a display case made, by Mr. George Smith, also a civil rights demonstrator during the 60's, so that it could be shown — in the spirit of Kat Twine — to those who wanted to learn about the civil rights movement in St. Augustine.

Copyright © 2004, David Nolan

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