As we commemorate 60 years since the sit-in demonstrations, led by university students and youth members of the NAACP across the country and in Jacksonville, we also remember the violent white-led backlash on August 27, 1960 that erupted in our city and became known as Ax Handle Saturday. It was a pivotal moment in the march towards desegregation in a community ripe with racism and ready for change. This powerful history is especially poignant at this moment of national reckoning following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the constant drumbeat of violence and oppression against Black people in America.
At a time and place when both tension and progress are palatable, Yellow House introduces Sit In, Stand Up: Still Not About a Hot Dog and a Coke, a virtual exhibition which coincides with the 60th anniversary of Ax Handle Saturday. The movement for Black Lives Matter has gained traction; confederate statues are coming down; and, the park at the heart of our city, where the intimidation and violence of Ax Handle Saturday occurred, is being renamed for James Weldon Johnson. Yet, it is also a time of documented police brutality, governmental corruption, and long existing racial inequities only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The members of the Jacksonville NAACP Youth Council stage its first sit-in demonstration on Aug. 13, 1960 at Woolworth lunch counter downtown. Hurst dubbed this moment “the beginning of a mission.” The press was on hand to capture the moment but only the Florida Star was represented locally. The publisher, Eric O. Simpson, is standing behind members of the council as Alton Yates, seated left, and Hurst, seated right are interviewed.
Sit In, Stand Up: Still Not About a Hot Dog and a Coke is both reflective and current as we connect the strong threads across these 60 years in an attempt to amplify the ‘then’ and the ‘now’. The exhibition centers the lived experiences and written words of Rodney L. Hurst Sr., who was the 16-year-old NAACP leader of the sit-in demonstrations, and witness to, and survivor of, Ax Handle Saturday. The recollections in his book, It was never about a hot dog and a Coke!, form this virtual exhibition and give us the great pleasure to hear Hurst read his own words, while we view historic photos, of which there are few due to the local majority-led media blackout of these critical events, that help illustrate the time, place, and people who shaped the moment.
In the voice of Rodney L. Hurst Sr., from his book, It was never about a hot dog and a Coke®!