GOP convention will occur same week as Ax Handle Saturday, activists concerned

Sit-in at Woolworth (Rodney Hurst Collection)
Sit-in at Woolworth (Rodney Hurst Collection)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For weeks, teenagers, adults and people of all races across the nation, including Jacksonville, have been marching and protesting against racism and injustice.

Sixty years ago, Rodney Hurst -- who was 16 years old -- was attacked in Jacksonville for protesting against racism in a lunch counter sit-in. It was an attempt to integrate public places.

He would become one of many teenagers attacked during what is now called Ax Handle Saturday.

“There were white men in Confederate uniforms passing out free ax handles,” said Rodney L. Hurst, a black historian, activist and author.

Hurst explained the ax handles would be used to beat the teenagers who were attempting to desegregate lunch counters in Jacksonville. There were no police officers around in uniform. Other officers stood around dressed in non-uniform clothes.

Ax handles used in the attack (Rodney Hurst Collection)
Ax handles used in the attack (Rodney Hurst Collection)

Hurst would discover later that the officers were taking photos of the peaceful protesters. There were white men ready to assault the teens, police officers willing to do nothing and teenagers prepared to run for their lives if attacked.

“But we decided we were going to sit-in that day, any way.” said Hurst.

(Below: Charlie Griffin was beaten by ax handlers and those holding baseball bats. (Life Magazine, Rodney Hurst Collection))

Miles away, a mural sits on A. Phillip Randolph Boulevard marking the day of the Ax Handle Saturday attack as a lesson and reminder of what happened and to honor those who stood up for justice.

Dr. Rudy Jamison and Dr. Christopher Janson, University of North Florida educators and activists, say this is a time for Jacksonville to be honest about its history.

“I think it’s significant because it tells a history that had been blacked out and had been covered up, and I think that’s a lie, that’s a new type of violence perpetrated on black folk today," Jamison said.

I think a lot of white people are very comforted by thinking about the civil rights movement as being universally nonviolent," Janson said. “Was extremely violent, and, like Ax Handle Saturday, that violence was committed by white people to protect this white supremacist ideology. So, I think some of the disconnect starts with our educational system.”

In August, the world will be watching Jacksonville as it is in the political limelight during the Republican National Convention. These educators believe it is a chance for the city to confront race relations this country.

The 60th anniversary commemoration of Ax Handle Saturday will happened August 27 at noon.

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