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MLK in Touch with White House on St. Augustine Disorders

June 24, 1964 - Dr. Martin Luther King said today he had appealed to the White House to send a mediator to the racially divided city of St. Augustine, Fla.

Warning that St. Augustine was descending into a “reign of terror,” with the police allegedly conspiring with “Klan-like elements” against civil rights demonstrators, he told a press conference he had asked President Johnson to follow the example of President Kennedy’s handling of the comparable crisis in Birmingham last year. (Pictured below right is Elaine Evans, whose nose was broken by segregationists in St. Augustine.)

After all contact between whites and Negroes had been severed in Birmingham, President Kennedy dispatched mediators who restored communications and brought the opposing factions to the conference table.

Returning to St. Augustine after a weekend in Atlanta, Dr. King found a worsening climate of “lawlessness, terror, and revengeful violence.”

If this spreads, he warned, the nation will be doomed to “a barbarism more destructive and horrible than Hitler’s Germany.”

Clashes between Negroes and militant whites were narrowly averted on three occasions today. This morning, at St. Augustine beach, about 30 Negroes turned back near the water’s edge when they were blocked by a gang of white teenage toughs. The police did nothing to disperse the gang. They made no attempt to clear a path for the Negroes, although this was a public beach never segregated by law, only by custom.

Then in mid-afternoon, some 100 Negroes parade on the downtown streets under a broiling sun. They were subjected to the usual abuse from loungers in the Plaza.

And tonight, 200 local and state policemen accompanied by several dogs separated whites and Negroes as they marched and counter-marched between the Negro quarter and the downtown district.

“You’re nothing but a n****r,” hollered a man at the only white person marching with the integrationists this afternoon. And about a dozen toughs followed the paraders back to the edge of the Negro quarter, taunting and trying to pick a fight.

There, they barely missed a confrontation with Dr. King, who was rounding a corner on foot just as the police drove the white tormentors away.

At a press conference held in the Elks Rest, a two-story clubhouse in the heart of the Washington Street Negro district, Dr. King said he had heard that some white business leaders in St. Augustine were willing to discuss the Negro demands for desegregation of public accommodations, more jobs for Negroes, and the dropping of charges against civil rights demonstrators.

But they were afraid to do anything, he said, because the town was dominated by lawless elements.

“Some businessmen told us,” he said, “that they were afraid of violence from the Klan and Klan-like elements in the community.”

Dr. King was critical of the Johnson Administration for not moving more forcibly in the St. Augustine crisis. He said he had asked the Justice Department to “do something about brutality and violence” and “the only answer I got was that they were looking into it.”

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