Barbara Allen was active in the
St. Augustine FL, Movement
Hartford: So tell us about what happened, what you did in the Movement.
Allen: I had been active in the Movement in New York prior to [St. Augustine], and I had been going back and forth. We had formed a club in New York, called Southern Assistance Volunteer Efforts, known as SAVE. And we did a lot of fundraising for jail fees and things like that. Prior to that, there were a number of things wrong within the [NY] school system. I was active in that.
Hartford: Was that at the time of the teachers' strike?
Allen: The teachers' strike was one of them. We kept most of the schools open. I am not a teacher, I have a lot of friends who are teachers, and rather than see our school closed during the strike, we brought in teachers from everywhere. If you knew a friend who was a teacher who could take some time to come in to keep the schools open, we did that. Anyway, I had been over to Riverside Church, and Reverend Coffin was there, and Dr. King was supposed to come in to St Augustine for Easter Sunday.
Hartford: This was in '63 or '64?
Allen: This was '64. And there were a number of students that were going down, and because I had lived in St Augustine before, I was going down with them. The group I was with went by Greyhound. And when we got here, my intent was not to go to jail, but just to assist wherever I could, getting people placed in homes or whatever was needed. I had worked for Dr. Hayling as a dental assistant some time before that. And so I knew where the Movement was at that time, and it was a very important weekend.
On that weekend we left New York on Wednesday, got there on Thursday. It was the weekend that the Governor of Massachusett's mother, Mrs. Peabody, was supposed to come down. And there were a number of things going on.
That weekend when I went to jail, Dr. King was in Tallahassee, he hadn't gotten to St Augustine yet, he came later. I didn't get around to talking too much about the Movement until Friday evening and Saturday morning. On Saturday I'd gone over to friend's house assuming that they had participated. They were not, they hadn't got up the nerve and the gumption at that time yet to really get out. The Movement had been semi going on with Dr. Hayling and sit-ins and demonstrations prior to that, but a lot of people were not actually participating at that time. At any rate, I got there about 1 o'clock, and then we only had four black males there if I remember correctly. There were no black women there, from the community, or anywhere else.
Hartford: Where are you talking about? At the church?
Allen: No, we were up there at what we called headquarters, by the Elks Home down on Washington Street, Elks Rest. It's a lodge, we call it the Elks Rest. They were ready for another group to go uptown, going up about 1, 1:30. And I volunteered, Dr. Hayling didn't ask me to go, it's just somebody had to give, to get this going and what not. I just looked at him, so I said, "Well, you want me to go, I'll go." And I went up to St. George Pharmacy, to meet another gentleman and we walked in the pharmacy, sat at the lunch counter, and shortly after they asked us to leave, police came in with the dogs.
Hartford: Tell us about the dogs.
Allen: Well, I had a nice one, a big healthy German shepherd dog, that had the sharpest teeth you could see, and I was trying to be cool, I even took out my cigarette and I lit it. They put me in first, and put the dog in after to me, so close to me it looked like I was going to hug him, almost. And if you moved, the dog moved.
Hartford: This was in the paddy wagon?
Allen: This was in the back of the police car, I didn't go in the wagon, I went in the car. Because when they came up, there wasn't a crowd or anything at that time. All I could see was the dog's teeth. I was a nervous wreck. Not so much about being there with the policemen, but the dog. Then I had this cigarette, I wanted to put it out, scared to put it out, scared not to put it out, so then I asked the officer, "May I get rid of this cigarette?" So he said yes. Got rid of the cigarette.
And we got up to the County Jail. The sheriff, Sheriff Cook, was on duty. His wife had been my supervisor at Flagler Hospital. I was a nurses' aide at the hospital there for almost five years, four or five years. I came to St. Augustine in 1956, I was a student at Florida A&M University [Tallahasse] at that time. I had a baby my junior year and I was coming to my grandparents here in St Augustine.
When we got [to the jail] and he saw me, of course he wanted to tell the wife I was there. "Oh Barbara," she was so upset, "if you wanted coffee, if you wanted anything, why didn't you come up to aunt Rosa's down over at the Bennett Hotel. They don't have..., you could come upstairs. You don't have to..., why would you do this?"
She and I had got along quite well. In fact, everything I knew about nursing, she taught me. Because I worked in the Colored ward, that's what it was called at that time, the "Colored" ward. And I was only a nurse's aide, but I had had a little training, and I did everything, from picking up doctors' orders, helping deliver a baby, whatever, we were all crammed in there. Part of it was, women, children, whatever, all the other side was males, children and what not.
Hartford: Only Black tubercular patients?
Allen: No, we took care of all of the tubercular patients on the other side. The Colored ward was on one side, you crossed a little driveway, and there was the isolation area. And all isolation came through there. They didn't go to the rest of the hospital, only on the colored side.
My part [in the Movement] was very brief in a sense, because what they needed was something to take back to the community to give them a little stimulus and a little push, but I didn't live here, yet I came down and I'm taking part in it, they couldn't get that much support from people from there.
Hartford: Because they were afraid?
Allen: I think basically they were afraid. You had those who were going to participate, and they were mostly young people, and when I say young, they were very young people, I would say 15, 16, something like that. The adults are most or less conditioned, and it's not that I've always been such a radical, but I've always felt that I had rights. I'm an American, I was born here. And there are certain things that are not supposed to be a certain way.
I was born in St. Augustine, but I was raised in New York. And there are a number of things that had happened here, that upset me, about the type of things that went on, the working conditions, you made less money, segregation. I feel that my money shouldn't be spent that way. I didn't drink Coca Cola for a number of years, like 25 years, because of their conditions of work where minorities were concerned.
But my going to jail got people into St. Paul and a few of other churches, that they was really able to put fire into the people of the community, and it gradually built from there. So the significance of my part, more or less, was as a stimulus, as something to say how are you going to let this happen. I had cousins that came down from Washington even, after that, that are from St. Augustine, that took part and what not. And Bill Hammond, who is a businessman, a large business, he was in the service at the time, and he happened to come home to see his mother during that period, and he said it was more hostile here than it was in Vietnam as far as he was concerned. That's the extent of my participation at that time.
Hartford: When you came down from New York, you came down with other people. Did they go on the sit-ins too?
Allen: Oh yes. They went and participated.
Hartford: So there were a lot of people on that sit-in?
Allen: There were a lot who came to participate that whole weekend, because as I said there were only four people in jail when I got in jail. By Monday night, Tuesday morning, it was about 1300 people in jail. Before that, between Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and I had told Dr. HaylingI had to get out, because I had to be at work Tuesday. I had my daughter there. She didn't go to jail. She was taken to jail, but my aunt went and got her. She was only seven, something like that. Small.
Hartford: Do you remember what you were charged with?
Allen: Oh man, I was charged with everything. Inciting a riot, illegal entry, acting like a white woman.
Hartford: Acting like a white woman?
Allen: Oh, yeah. The judge said that every time I opened my mouth... I had it so bad. I had a pink mohair suit, and I had a Lilly Daschet hat, I sent somebody home to get my pink suit and my white hat, and I dressed up, and I came to court acting like a white woman. And he refused to [release me], it was a struggle. I couldn't get out of jail for about four or five days, I thought I was going to lose my job.
My case hung over for ten years. I was walking down the street one day in New York, and I saw somebody had a poster up, 10,000 cases thrown out of federal court, and I was one of them.
Hartford: Yeah, I remember that.
Allen: It took about ten years for that to get done. But the significance of that [arrest], of my being in there, [followed me]. When a lot of women came into the post office in 1965, 1966, I was one of them. And at random they would pick out and check fingerprints and what not, they checked mine, and I lost my job.
Hartford: Because you had an arrest record.
Allen: Not only that, I was called in, and sent home on the spot. That's when I wrote my club that I was in, we were getting incorporated, and William Kunstler's office was handling that, and that's how I got to know Kunstler as well as I do know, or did know him. He represented me against the federal government at that time. It took me a while to get my job back because those inciting a riot, conspiracy to overthrow the American government, illegal entry charges cost me my job.
When I got ready to go to City University in New York, to start classes towards my nursing, I'm a registered nurse, I couldn't get in to that school. I got in to Helene Fuld College of Nursing. At that time they had two divisions, the LPN division and the RN division, and I was accepted into the LPN division. And they sent me a telegram because of the same thing, not to come. And of course, I had to go back to Kunstler with that. And it's followed me almost everywhere, just that one little [arrest] that would put me on a list.
Hartford: During the '60s and '70s, I know. But since then has it still followed you?
Allen: Not since 19, what 80? In the '80s, '84 something like that, I was working at a Hospital, and I had a problem there all the time, for one reason or another, because they didn't trust me. And that's how I got to Isabella nursing home, I finished nursing school, LPN class, got my RN, went to work at Isabella Geriatric Center, [NYC]. I worked there 30 years, I retired in the year 2000, through the 1199 [union].
Hartford: What about going back to that place where you were arrested? How long did it take before you did that?
Allen: Oh it took me about three years. Because I when came back [to St. Augustine], I didn't go uptown, because I kind of got a little harassed coming in, and I wasn't coming in like for long vacations. I would come in on the weekend to see relatives, somebody who was sick, something like that. We were busy in other areas, because things were set up, we had a woman here Lucille James, Lucile Palmer, she was very active, and she would come up the Eastern Seaboard, and we were fundraising, and I was there with different ones, all the way up to Massachusetts we would go fundraising. That was in '64, up until I went to nursing school in '69, that was the focus, raising funds for the Southern Christian Leadership Council, and that's what we did, that's what I did.
Hartford: That was your SAVE group?
Allen: I was still with the St. Augustine group, some of those who were living here, they needed funds. And so that's what I did on the weekends instead of coming south, we stayed up there and we raised money. My SAVE group assisted in that, wherever there was money we could get, that's where we were.
Hartford: So looking back on it now what do you think about, what happened, what you did, how do you feel about it?
Allen: Well it was a good experience for me and my daughter. Because I felt very strongly about what was happening and what was going on. I've always had a strong feeling about my ability to do a lot of things, even in high school. I went to Washington Irving High School [NYC]. And I tried out for the cheering squad, and they said I had to be 5 feet 4, blonde hair, and blue eyes, so they'd all look alike. It was an all-girls school, we provided the cheerleaders for Stuyvesant High School at that time. And I got on the cheering squad.
I really did not want to go to Florida A&M when I went, but that was the best thing my father did for me, was to send me to Florida A&M. I got good lessons on what it is to ride at the back of the bus and all these things, because you have this false illusion if you live in New York, about a lot of the things that happened. I used to come here during the summers, because I come from a large family here, we were always seeing our cousins, and I really didn't see a lot of the Jim Crow.
But I'm disappointed with the fact I don't see my community using a lot of the facilities uptown, and more participation within everything that goes on. I don't see them using a lot of things. I mean, I walk downtown and I don't see anybody. I look at the clubs and the stuff like that. So I said, well, I'll have some fun now, because I know I'm going.
Hartford: So what's changed? What was the effect of what you all did, of what the Movement did?
Allen: Well, the effects, for me, it took down the barriers. Though in a sense, barriers are still there, but they're not there if you want to take part. It's really up to the individual. I still think there's a hidden fear and an unwillingness to be the first one to say, "I'm going there or here," or something like that.
Now they're going to have a problem in St. Augustine with me, because I don't intend to come here and just sit. I will go to the commissioners' meetings, I want to hear what they have to say, and I will ask questions of somebody. I have enough relatives that live here, and I'm very dissatisfied.
But we will see. I'm home, and I'm just as comfortable here, and I don't need a lot of people to go with me to see about these things. When Title 9 and 12 and different ones came and my daughter was affected, I didn't understand it. So I went to the Board of Education. They were too glad to get rid of me, because I wanted to hear somebody explain to me what I was entitled to. And I would go back and forth, and they'd say, "Oh here she comes again, give her what she wants." Just to get rid of me.
Hartford: Two thirds or three quarters of the people who come to the website where we're gong to put this interview, are students. Most of the people who come to the website are college students and school children. What would you want to tell them? If you could tell them whatever you wanted about the Movement, what would you want to tell them?
Allen: Well, I would want to tell them it benefitted my children. I had visions of what I wanted for my kids, and I wanted them to have it as abundantly as I had it in New York. I had everything, and I expect them to have it too. I took my daughter across the Eastern Seaboard, I went to Appalachia, she went to Appalachia; I was with Malcolm X in Brooklyn, she was with Malcolm X in Brooklyn; for ten or twelves years over summer vacations and holidays we went different places, where the action was.
She grew up very comfortable among many nationalities and many people. She's very aggressive, she's not shy. And one of the things I find here [in St. Augustine], the children seem shy to the point they are almost intimidated, and afraid to speak, they back up at the wrong time, they don't get out with that drive that you need to move.
And because of what's right and what's wrong in this country, and it's more evident and young kids recognize it more so than a lot of my peers at the time, who lived in a dream fantasy world that it would be "all right," "let's wait for time," "you can't do that now," I would say to [young people], the importance for them to understand and see that it's not over yet, it's just starting. There's been a lull for the last fifteen years that has to be revitalized and come forward, or you're going to lose some more.
But the tragedy of [what is happening] is going to make them move, it's all in that same bag that we were in years ago. One of the things to me about this country, [be it] drugs, AIDS, whatever it is, unless it affects the white community there's nothing too much done.
I think this last election  we had left a bad taste in a lot of people's minds. But at least it got some of them moving. The Supreme Court goofed again. When the election took place in Florida, in the count in Florida, they should have done the election over. They should have done it over in the state. But no, they jumped in and picked who they wanted to win, and it's another slap in the face all over again.
I had been with a criminal justice unit, we were trying to get the Rockefeller laws changed, all right they changed them, I'm very unhappy with the changes, it's not good enough, you see. So when all these things are happening, students need to go back into history. They need to read more about what happened in Congress, about the 3/5ths clause [in the original Constitution], things like that so they would have a better understanding of what is happening today.
They [need to] look to see how have we prospered, how has it improved, what's the going trend for the Black community and the white community as a whole? How much have we come together? How much have we not come together?
Education is the key. These kids are impressed with money, I spell money E-D-U-C-A-T-I-O-N. And you let them know early enough, that if you've got the education you can get the money. You can be trained to a lot of good things. But our kids are being missed. I ask about the funds, the monies that were allocated by the federal government, state government. How many kids here go uptown to these different programs and stuff that they have? I haven't found any. I don't know if they're asking to go, but I haven't found any.
I sat down today working on some letters for a couple of my little cousins that are graduating from high school next year and the year after, and now's the time they should be looking for scholarship money, grant money. My granddaughter is a doctor, not one penny did it cost me, because I knew how to travel through the libraries, through the internet, the scholarships, the grants you don't have to pay back, so she wound up with two PhDs. And every kid should be able to do that. Every kid should at least know how to begin to do it. I'm active with a group called Women's League of Science and Medicine. Last year they gave 30 scholarships. They've been doing it for the last 44 years. We need more organizations like that.
And as I said, we need to open up and rewrite some of these history books, and let people know what the history really is, because they don't have the history. It ain't what they say it is. I just happen to be a history buff, It amazes me when they say equal rights. I'm not for equal rights, I'm for every right. And people get mixed up. You don't have to wait for permission to say, "I don't like this or I want this."
Hartford: You know what you said about history is so true. We used to have this slogan, History is something you do, or history is something that is done
Allen: to you.
Hartford: And that was really true for us, in our day, we did history. It wasn't done to us, we did it. But today, for most kids it's done to them.
Hartford: So is there anything else you'd like to add, that I didn't ask?
Allen:Well, I'll hope while you're doing this that people will look at this and look at the internet and read it.
Hartford: Last month we had 110,000 pages viewed.
Allen: I don't know how many from St. Augustine, though. That's my point.