‘It was always peace’: Dr. King’s legacy lives on 59 years after he marched in St. Augustine

Many people who worked beside him have since passed away, but in St. Augustine, there are some people who are still alive and working to keep Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s memory present.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – January 16 is a national holiday that honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. Throughout the day, there have been parades, rallies and memorials to honor his legacy.

King is remembered as a nonviolent civil rights activist and icon who led the way in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1968. On April 4, 1968, he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

Many people who worked beside him have since passed away, but in St. Augustine, there are some people who are still alive and working to keep King’s memory present.

In 1964, King, Andrew Young, Rev. Ralph Abernathy and hundreds of other men, women and children marched at a St. Augustine plaza to fight to integrate the area -- and 59 years later, people return on his birthday each year to keep his dream of equality going.

“We want to make sure that we are honoring his legacy and we are commemorating and reflecting on the time when he was in St. Augustine,” said Marques Wilkes, member of the Sigma Pi Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated.

Lenny Foster is a local photographer who is creating art through shoes for the 16th Jewish Clergy, marching in protest for civil rights activists who were arrested with King.

Foster said he choose to place King’s wife’s shoes behind King’s because it was symbolic of her support. A pair of shoes also represented Bayard Rustin, who was instrumental in planning the March on Washington but remained in the shadows in fear of discrimination for being gay.

A plaque now stands in the place of what was once the former Monson Motel, which was a place where the manager was photographed pouring acid into the pool after African American teenagers attempted to integrate it.

Alesia Ford-Burse preaches every Sunday from the same pulpit that King once spoke from at the St. Paul AME Church.

“This is the church that Martin Luther King held his rallies and preached in 1964 and in fact, it was May 18, 1964,” said Alesia Ford-Burse, senior pastor and the first woman pastor at St. Paul AME Church. “He came and had a rally to encourage people to participate in justice, education and employment.”

Sister Cora Tyson housed and prepared meals for King. She said even when others wanted to turn to violence, King required non-violent actions despite threats of death from Klan members.

“Dr. King, I believe he was a God-sent man. When I met him there was something about him that you could see in him. It wasn’t violent. It was always peace,” Tyson said.

In every direction you turn, there is a story in St. Augustine that will forever symbolize the Civil Rights Movement and a beloved leader of this county: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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