UPDATED: 55 Years Later Protesters For Integration Recognized
Many of the people who participated in the 1960’s Sit-ins in downtown Pensacola returned over the weekend for the unveiling of a historical marker honoring their efforts.
Patricia Turner Jefferson kicked off the ceremony, which was held Saturday at the corner of Palafox and Garden streets, right in the heart of downtown Pensacola where the sit-ins took place, "We feel excited that we can say to the state of Florida, to the city of Pensacola, that there was a difference made under the leadership of a remarkable man Rev. William Dobbins."
Dr. Sarah Jonas later added, "At just 25 years of age, Rev. Dobbins went to secret meetings in Birmingham to learn how to train the youth…and he met Dr. King to learn how to orchestrate the movement."
Sarah Jonas was one of the keynote speakers at the ceremony. She came up with the idea to commemorate the 1960’s sit-ins after conducting extensive research for her doctorate in education at the University of West Florida.
In addition to honoring the late Rev. Dobbins, who was represented by his wife and daughter, Dr. Jonas praised members of the 1960s NAACP Youth Council, teenagers at the time, who put their lives on the line when they sat down at the “whites only” lunch counters in an effort to integrate them.
"They knew that they would be confronted with white hecklers and they knew they would be victims of both verbal and physical abuse, but they sat down anyway. They knew they would be called derogatory and offensive names and that those words would have no bearing on their true character, but the sat down anyway. They knew hecklers would come into the stores and throw catchup, mustard, and other condiments on them. They knew they might get burned with cigarettes and they knew police officers would arrest them on falsified charges, but they sat down anyway," spoke Jonas at the commemmoration.
And, when the young people sat down at the lunch counters at Woolworths, Kress, and Newberry they were always under the guidance and protection of Rev. Dobbins and Mr. Raymon Harvey as MC Patricia Turner Jefferson reminded the crowd, "This is the moment when it is very difficult in that we reflect on what has happened and it really touches my heart that I can reunite with Mr. Harvey, who was there, who supported, who reinforced, who encouraged, and 55 years later we can give him just recognition for a great job."
Raymon Harvey also spoke saying, "this is not only a privilege, but also a pleasure. In fact, I’m enthused just to be here this afternoon. And, they say up here on my shirt, it says a leader, but I want to let you know that all the young people who were sitting in at that particular time, they also were leaders."
Harvey had a specific message for the young people of today.
"It’s good to have sit-ins for the cause. It’s good to have marches for the cause. But, I want you to bear in mind, one of the best sit-in you can have is to sit-in at school and learn something."
About a dozen of those 1960s Youth council members were on hand for the ceremony, each wearing blue t-shirts that noted their age at the time of the sit-ins.
One of the youngest participants was Sandra Benson McMeans, who was 13 during the sit-ins.
She said, "I was young, but I was influenced by my sister and my family. My family has a history of being advocates. My father was born in an all black town in Mississippi, right out of Winstonville, which is historical. My grandfather worked with Dr. King and he was a postmaster in Mississippi."
McMeans says it’s been great reuniting with her fellow youth council members from 55 years ago and remembering what they accomplished.
A commemorative marker, honoring their efforts, was unveiled at the end of the ceremony. It now sits at Palafox and Garden streets, site of the Woolworths store, where the first Pensacola sit-in took place.
According to its text, the battle to integrate the city’s lunch counters lasted 707 days, just under two years.
Thanks to the sit-ins and other tactics, those downtown lunch counters were integrated on March 12, 1962.
The marker sits at the corner of Palafox and Garden streets. A Pita Pit is there now, but in 1960, it was the site of the Woolworth’s store, where the first sit-in took place.
"On my shirt it says leader" but I want to let you know that all the young people sitting in were leaders...they taught other people that they could move forward."
"You let everyone know that we are part of what it means to say "we the people.""
"One thing I would like to say to the young people: you can have sit ins and you can have marches but the best sit in you can have is to sit-in at school... and walking across the stage at a college or a trade school, that is the next march you should have."
"When these youth sat down at lunch counters as a form of protest to integrate the lunch counters they put their lives on the line. They were trained in Dr. Martin Luther King's philosophy of nonviolence and they were fully aware of what challenges stood before them. They knew that they would be confronted by white hecklers and they knew they would be the victims of both verbal and physical abuse, but they sat down anyway. They knew they would be called derogatory and offensive names and those would have no bearing on their character and they sat down anyway. They knew hecklers would come into the stores and throw ketchup and mustard on them. They knew they might get burned with cigarettes and they knew police officers would arrest them on falsified charges but they sat down anyway."
"The 1960s youth council sat in at the lunch counters day in and day out... it is because of them; their bravery and selflessness, that we of all races can stand here together today. As we stand here today let what they did for us be a reminder that each and every one of us has the power to make the world a better place."