JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A group of white men, wielding ax handles and bats, attacked young Black youths staging a sit-in on Aug. 27, 1960, at a segregated lunch counter in downtown Jacksonville.
Sixty years later, a retired Jacksonville police chief still remembers what it felt like to know he and other Black officers were not able to help protect those victims.
“I became a little frustrated by it,” said retired Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Chief Charles Scriven. “But I had a real sense of determination.”
Scriven, who was a sergeant at the time, was off from work that day but said that most Black officers who were on duty weren’t able to help protect and serve those young people protesting outside the Black officers’ beat. He said Black police officers were essentially hired to be a buffer between white police officers and the Black community. But the Black officers were told not to deviate from their jurisdiction, which was only in area filled with mostly Black residents.
“We were physically restricted to the business and entertainment center of Jacksonville, which included Ashley, Davis and Broad Street. And you did not go outside of that area,” Scriven said. “I was in sympathy with what they were doing, but at the same time, I was restricted in terms of my physical boundaries. And all I could do really was stand on the outside and look in.”
In a mural, created two years ago on Jacksonville’s Eastside, images from what came to be known as Ax Handle Saturday are permanently memorialized, reminding an entire city of that dark day.
“A big misunderstand some kind of way. That’s how I processed it. Somebody’s just not getting along, and I didn’t know what the reasons were,” said News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson, who spent more than two decades with JSO.
Jefferson was only 3 years old back then but said what he witnessed that day was forever seared in his memory.
“It’s an image that I don’t care to replay in my mind, in my head,” Jefferson said. “But the image that’s always there is these young, white men walking with ax handles in their hands, going to wreak havoc with those ax handles.”
When asked whether that incident, in particular, had an effect on him once he became a police officer, Jefferson said: “That prompted my interest in law enforcement at 3 years old.”
He continued: “By the time I was in fifth grade, it was settled. I knew I wanted to be a police officer. I knew I wanted to defend those who couldn’t defend themselves, those who couldn’t speak up. I wanted to be that person, that liaison, that go-between.”
“I always would want to get more members of the Black community to join the police force,” Scriven said. “That is one of the answers. And, of course, the other is to have better-trained police officers. But this is our community, this is our community, and the more representation you get from that community will make a big difference.”
Scriven rose through the police ranks and said he was soon able to offer solutions to the command staff during a time of racial hatred toward African Americans. He retired from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office as the city’s first Black police chief.