Part 5: Mission of Literacy

Journey 2016

Watch and read Part 5 (5:46 minutes).

Very dear lord superior, after long reflection, weighing carefully and praying to God for his grace and light. I am writing to you to make all necessary arrangements in order to send a colony of your sisters under the protection of Father Gauthier in the month of April.  I wish you to understand and clearly that it is for the Blacks and for them alone that I have the sisters of your order come to my diocese. I have between 5 and 6 thousands Blacks without education, and without religion or baptism for whom I would like to do something.

We came in 1866 at the request of Bishop Augustin Verot. He asked for 8 Sisters that would come. They had about 160 that volunteered.  But the General Superior has already selected about 8 Sisters that would come. And their ages ranged really probably from about 45 to probably 19, 20 years-old.  And he made it very clear that they were coming to teach the liberated slaves, that that would be their work hereWhen they started to teach here they taught children, you know, and only boys came to school originally.  But it wasn’t too many weeks later that the little girls started to come too and the parents would send the children. And at night we taught the adults.

Despite their good works, it wasn’t long before the Sisters were caught in the rising tide of racial segregation.

It was illegal to teach Black people. There was a lot of animosity about, you know, educating Black people. Even after the Civil war, even after they were free. In 1916 three of our Sisters were arrested and it was on Easter Sunday and they were arrested over at St. Benedicts. The Sisters were over there probably for Sunday School,  after church services. The order to arrest them probably came from the Governor, who was very anti-Catholic. So that went on for a week or two, but the end result was that that law was lifted from the books.

These noble sisters became revered by the people they were sent to help. 

The first Nun who died here, the Black ladies from the Cathedral Parish, it wasn’t a cathedral then, from Parish St. Augustine here, They took over the funeral. They said “these women came for us, we’re gonna take care of this funeral” . And they did.  Her body was laid out here at the Mother-House. They organized a procession down the street and lead the procession to the church for the funeral. I always thought that was a great tribute to us that they did do it.

Over the years, Little Africa began to take shape and grow as a community. As it did, its name was changed to what it’s called today.

By the 1960’s, Lincolnville had become a vibrant African American neighborhood – a stronghold of middle class values and commerce.

Lincolnville was never totally segregated in terms of living. I can recall when I was a kid on the corner of, what is now ML King and Lincoln Street, there were a couple of grocery stores located in the immediate neighborhood that were owned and operated by Jewish families.

Oh we were a close-knit family of people.  Now I had fun in Lincolnville, now

We were not totally segregated, white families lived in the community as well. 

It was a lot of the Caucasian kids that we played with –we used to skate up and down the streets and stuff and all of us played together and I had a very happy childhood.

While its influence on the local economy grew, these advances were only going to go so far in the face of segregation.

 Well shopping downtown, Black people couldn’t try on hats, and they couldn’t try on the dresses, you just have to guess what your size was. You look at the hat, if you like it, you bought it and whatever, but you couldn’t try it on.

I could not attend the University of Florida. I went down for an interview, it was very interesting about the results of my visit there. I was told that I spoke very well. That’s all I heard.

Even as the events in Birmingham, Mississippi and Little Rock stirred a nation, St. Augustine’s whites became more and more determined to keep segregation in place.  – Fearing retribution,  Many of St. Augustine’s middle class blacks were either hesitant or silent about the growing Civil Rights movement.

My father was a teacher and he was told that if he participated in the movement, he would lose his job.

Nationally, the Civil Rights Bill was stalled in the Senate with southern Dixie-crats effectively halting the bill with filibusters and legislative delays.  There needed to be a new front opened in the fight against segregation, and there was no better place to do it than in a city about to celebrate its 400th birthday.

When we return the long hot summer of 1963 is about to intensify

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