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Ax Handle Saturday and the Racial Residue That Still Persists

August 27, 2020

60th Anniversary of the Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP 1960 Sit-Ins



By Rodney L. Hurst Sr. and Rudy F. Jamison Jr.

For two weeks in the summer of 1960, young Black demonstrators held sit-ins at
lunch counters in downtown Jacksonville stores where they were ignored by staff and taunted by white counter-protesters. Their actions made for angry enemies, including the local KKK. And there were reputable reports that violence might be coming their way. But the young demonstrators, who’d vowed nonviolence, didn’t back down.

White department stores in downtown Jacksonville insulted Black shoppers daily by
wanting them to spend their money, but only where the stores wanted Black
shoppers to spend their money. One of the many places White stores did not want Black people to spend money was the White lunch counters.

That was an insult.

The Youth Council NAACP members did not sit in because they wanted to eat a hot dog
and drink a beverage. No, they sat in to dramatize the opposition to segregation and racism, and for our human dignity and respect.

The Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP was comprised of mostly high school students from the Black segregated high schools in Jacksonville: Matthew W. Gilbert Junior Senior High School on the East Side or “Out East” as we used to say; New Stanton High School on the West Side; Douglas Anderson Junior Senior High School on the South Side; and Northwestern Junior Senior High School, Rodney’s alma mater, on the North Side.

Rodney L. Hurst Sr. served as the Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP President under adviser Mr. Rutledge Henry Pearson.

The 1960 Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP sit-ins and Ax Handle Saturday are a part of Jacksonville’s Civil Rights history and a part of Jacksonville’s painful racist past. We must continue to tell the story of those brave Youth Council NAACP members who peacefully protested the racism and the segregation of downtown commercial stores, and Jacksonville’s White community’s response of vicious violence. The 60th Commemoration of the Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP Sit-In Demonstrations and Ax Handle Saturday is designed to educate, inform, and bring the darkness of those days into light.

As we commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP 1960 Sit-Ins and Ax Handle Saturday, the racial residue that still persists in today’s socio-political climate cannot be ignored or set aside. The role race plays in our daily lives is a direct consequence of how we have dealt with, or not dealt with, race and racism over the years.

Although metaphorical, the signs still exist. The signs that segregated Blacks from Whites at lunch counters, the signs that Black lives held less value than White lives, and the signs that preserved White wealth and White supremacy still exist.

The kind of racism that emboldened 200+ White men, with ax handles and bats, to assault 38 Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP members are the same signs that civilly detain, deescalate, disarm, and arrest murderous White men with regularity while killing unarmed Black men.

How do we, as concerned American citizens, combat this type of disrespect and degradation?

It is our humble opinion that we all must elevate our critical self-consciousness. We do this by gaining a deeper understanding of our perceptions and realities of racial equity and social justice. What tools, technologies, and strategies are each of us employing to inform our appreciation of racial equity and social justice? We then must intimately wrestle with where we are situated within structural and institutional systems of oppression. What is our position in the fight against racism? What capacity do we possess to courageously push back on unearned, racist privilege and power? We then must take intentional action against individual and systemic racial injustices. Each of us must exercise our agentic authority to frustrate inequity and injustice. We must incessantly frustrate inequity and injustice in our families, inequity and injustice in our social spheres, inequity and injustice in our organizations, and inequity and injustice in our communities.

This is ‘the work,’ or as Rodney L. Hurst likes to call it, ‘the struggle.’ We all have a part to play in ‘the work,’ ‘the struggle.’

Play yours.

It is our prayer that these words land on you in the spirit of hope, love, courage, and agency.