Jacksonville NAACP reflects on 60th anniversary of Ax Handle Saturday

Virtual ceremony held Thursday at James Weldon Johnson Park

Virtual ceremony held Thursday at James Weldon Johnson Park.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville NAACP’s Youth Council commemorated a somber anniversary Thursday -- 60 years since Ax Handle Saturday.

On Aug. 27, 1960, Black teenagers who staged a peaceful sit-in to integrate lunch counters in downtown Jacksonville were attacked by a mob of 200 white men wielding axes and bats.

A virtual ceremony was held Thursday afternoon at James Weldon Johnson Park, formerly known as Hemming Park, where the attacks took place.

It was an emotional day for those who gathered to honor the courage of those teenagers and to reflect on what has changed since -- and what hasn’t.

“My mom said she couldn’t even go into that building and now her son has an office in that building and it’s thanks to you Mr. Hurst,” Jacksonville City Councilman Sam Newby said.

Rodney Hurst was the 16-year-old president of the NAACP Youth Council on that fateful day. He led Thursday’s ceremony, introducing each speaker, and said it was a commemoration, not a celebration, of what happened on that spot 60 years ago.

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Jacksonville NAACP reflects on 60th anniversary of Ax Handle Saturday

Bishop Rudolph McKissick Sr., pastor emeritus of Bethel Church, was among the local leaders who took part in the ceremony, which took place virtually and with social distancing protocols.

“Thank God we cannot be stopped,” he said. “We were fighting not just for our color, we were fighting for the fact that no human being that God formed -- and he formed all of us -- did he intend for us to mistreat one another on the basis of color or complexation.”

And as they remembered a plaza filled with badly beaten teenagers, heroes of the civil rights movements also passed the fight on to the next generation. To youngsters like Jacksonville 12-year-old Keedron Bryant, whose powerful video of “I Just Wanna Live,” a song written by his mother, went viral and earned him a record deal.

“I’m just blessed to have this opportunity to deliver this message of hope to the world,” Bryant said.

All week, News4Jax has been highlighting stories from Hurst and others who vividly remember Ax Handle Saturday and we spoke with experts, who put into perspective how that day shaped the history of the River City.

If you missed any of our stories this week, or you’d like to revisit or share them in remembrance of the day, we have links to them below:

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