On the inside of St. Augustine City Hall on Monday night, commissioners quickly approved people to serve on a committee that’s tasked with adding context to the city’s Confederate memorial in the Plaza de la Constitucion.
But on the outside, protesters of the city’s decision to keep the monument chanted for about two hours, sometimes verbally clashing with counter protesters — some of whom held Confederate flags.
The Rev. Ron Rawls, pastor of St. Paul AME Church in St. Augustine, called the protest. He said the city hasn’t listened to black residents, and he called the contextualization effort “a joke.”
“It’s to make them feel comfortable about glorifying the Confederate movement that was filled with traitors [and which fought to maintain slavery],” he said to protesters gathered across the street from City Hall.
Rawls plan was to have the protest outside of the meeting room but in the inner courtyard of City Hall close to Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday — he called it an olive branch to the city as a way to not disrupt the meeting with hours of public comment.
But in anticipation of his protest, the city blocked off the inner courtyard to anyone other than those who would go into the meeting rooms, and they blocked off the sidewalk on the west side of City Hall outside of the meeting room, leading protesters to stage across the street.
Rawls called the move “shenanigans” and said his protests may take a different approach in the future.
Anthony Daniel, who previously asked the commission to move the monuments, stood with an anti-monument sign across from City Hall.
“It’s frustrating not to have a voice and not to be a part of something. … This is something I can do,” Daniel said.
A smaller group gathered south, including Tea Party members and people holding Confederate and U.S. flags.
Michael Parks, of St. Augustine, carried an American flag. He said he came “to support the flag and our country.”
“MLK didn’t want the statues torn down,” Parks said. “It’s about uniting and having a civil conversation. History is history. … You can’t get anything accomplished by shouting and yelling.”
Parks added that he doesn’t condone racial slurs and hadn’t heard any from people in the group around him — Rawls said someone used a racial slur against him shortly after he arrived at City Hall.
Later Parks approached Rawls’ group during a break in the chanting while Rawls gave a speech to protesters.
“Dr. King would not have acted this way,” Parks shouted to the crowd.
People then chanted at Parks, and Rawls yelled, “The same folks who talk about Dr. King today, they despised him back then. … Their grandfathers and their fathers, they despised him … What they’re trying to do is to get us to be docile and plantation compliant, and then they quote Dr. King. … but they have no idea about what Dr. King stood for.”
Inside, city commissioners made few comments about City Manager John Regan’s recommendations for the context committee but tasked Regan with getting input from veteran groups.
They committee members are Flagler College history Professor J. Michael Butler, retired St. Johns County educator Sharyn Wilson Smith Coley, Flagler College adjunct history professor Elizabeth Dove, Flagler College emeritus history Professor Thomas Graham, St. Johns County Recreation Supervisor Thomas Jackson, historian Susan Parker and Lincoln-ville Museum and Cultural Center Director Regina Gayle Phillips.
Regan said he would like to have a recommendation in May from the committee, which is tasked with telling “a deeper, more inclusive story of the civil war period,” according to the city.