The award-winning civil rights documentary “Passage at St. Augustine,” will debut at the Florida Heritage Book Festival and Writer’s Festival.
Filmmaker Clennon L. King will introduce his documentary at 7 p.m. Thursday Sept. 24 in Flagler College’s Lewis Auditorium, 14 Granada St. Doors open at 6:15 p.m.
“Passage at St. Augustine” documents the pivotal role the 1964 demonstrations in St. Augustine played in passing landmark civil rights legislation.
The demonstrations morphed from a local uprising into a major campaign when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other key players of the national movement, including Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to break major league baseball’s color barrier, joined the cause. According to Dr. King, the demonstrations in St. Augustine provided “the catalyst by which the civil rights bill [Civil Rights Act of 1964] was passed.”
After initial gains the movement had made, proposed civil rights legislation hit major opposition in the U.S. Senate. According to an article in the Martha’s Vineyard Times, the filmmaker explained that the grass-roots drive for the legislation’s enactment had dampened after the Birmingham demonstrations quieted, and Dr. King needed a campaign to compel lawmakers to act. St. Augustine offered that impetus.
“I’m excited to be returning to the very city that is the subject of this film, which took 13 years to complete,” said King, now of Somerville Massachusetts. “In the racially charged atmosphere America now finds itself in, I think this film is timely and relevant.” Combining firsthand interviews with participants on both sides of the issue with archival footage of national media coverage, filmmaker King captures the brutality of the confrontations — from flagrant police and Klansmen beatings of protestors to a white hotel owner pouring muriatic acid into the Monson Motor Lodge swimming pool when demonstrators dared to hold a wade-in. Dr. King was jailed on June 11, attempting to integrate the Monson Restaurant; the only time he was incarcerated in Florida.
Former UN Ambassador, civil rights activist and friend of Dr. King, Andrew Jackson Young, marched in St. Augustine that summer. “We would not have had the decisive victory we had if we had not been in St. Augustine,” he said.
Clennon L. King, is a national award-winning, Emmy-nominated ex-television journalist with 20-plus years of media experience. He is also founder of AugustineMonica Films, which produces media communications tools for nonprofits to share their stories. King said he first began working on the documentary after a four-year stint as a reporter and anchor at First Coast News. Hailing from a civil rights family that included his father who was a lawyer for Dr. King (no relation) during the historic Albany Movement, King was familiar with the little-known St. Augustine civil rights movement, and began tracking down veterans of the campaign to interview them — civil rights foot soldiers, segregationists and Klansmen alike. “We wanted to capture and chronicle their stories while they were still here,” said King. In all, 44 voices tell the story of the bloodiest campaign of the Civil Rights Movement. According to the article in the Martha’s Vineyard Times, King added, “It’s not uncommon for a journalist to fall in love with a story. For me it was always St. Augustine.”
In June, the documentary earned The Henry Hampton Award for Excellence in Documentary Filmmaking at the 2015 Roxbury International Film Festival.
After the screening, David Nolan, local historian, author, and ACCORD co-founder, who served as a historical consultant on the film, will interview King. A Q&A with the audience will follow.
Admission is free and is made possible by the Florida Heritage Book Festival Inc., and major grant support from The St. Johns County Tourist Development Council and a Culture Builds Florida grant from Florida Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs. The co-sponsor is ACCORD Inc. (Anniversary to Commemorate the Civil Rights Demonstrations), a group founded to honor the participants in the St. Augustine civil rights movement.