JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Nathaniel Glover Jr. was leaving his dish-washing job alone on Aug. 27, 1960, when the then-17-year-old walked out into the middle of Ax Handle Saturday in Hemming Park.
He was quickly surrounded and ran to a white police officer nearby.
“What he told me was: ‘You better get out of here before they kill you.’ And I took off running, and I ran. And they did not chase me. They did not run after me. And I ran and ran and I ran home. And I was really frightened. I had never been that frightened in all my life,” Glover said.
“And I remember going home and I went to my room and I was laying across the bed and I was still crying.”
Glover would become a pillar of strength and courage but said he owes it to that moment of fear. There was also embarrassment that he had run from a fight instead of standing up for himself or others.
He said he still vividly remembers the faces of the men who surrounded him with their ax handles, bats and clubs.
“It was a hateful mob,” Glover said. “And it was quite frightening, and I just felt like it was going to get worse.”
Glover said he decided he would not run from the fight again, that he wouldn’t let fear stop him from doing the right thing. That meant running for sheriff of Jacksonville, even when friends told him Florida would never elect a Black sheriff and he would be a laughingstock. That also meant he wouldn’t harbor any bitterness, including years later when a man approached him and sought forgiveness.
“He said he was there that Saturday and he had an ax handle. And he said, ‘I just need ...’ — he emphasized the word need — ‘... you to forgive me.’ And I said, ‘Well, if that’s all you need, you got it from me. I really forgive you.‘ And the whole time he was talking to me, what added legitimacy to that moment was the fact that he was crying and the tears were so apparent. They coming out of both eyes and they kind of met under his chin, so he was quite sincere,” Glover recalled.
“It was easy for me to say, ‘I forgive you.’ Because, that moment? It’s been more of an asset emotionally than a liability. ... Maybe it had to happen to me. Maybe it had to happen to me.”
Despite what his friends told him, Glover became Florida’s first African American sheriff elected since the Reconstruction era. Duval County voters supported him to take the job in 1995, and he served as sheriff through 2003.
Glover went on to become president of his alma mater, Edward Waters College.
“I always had this notion that being Black, you gotta always do more than expected,” he said.
Now 77, Glover is retired. The lesson he said he learned that he would never forget is that if he didn’t do something he should have, or if he did something he should not because of fear, he would never forgive himself.