On this dayAug 27, 1960

Sit-In Demonstrators Attacked in Jacksonville, Florida

Image | rodneyhurst.com

On August 27, 1960, 16-year-old NAACP Youth Council President Rodney Hurst and dozens of his peers staged a peaceful sit-in protest at a “whites only” Woolworth's lunch counter in downtown Jacksonville, Florida. Throughout that month, Youth Council members had successfully organized peaceful sit-ins at Morrison’s Cafeteria and other prominent lunch counters in the city. On this Saturday, however, the young black demonstrators were violently attacked by a mob of more than 200 white people armed with baseball bats and ax handles.

The attack began when white onlookers angered by the demonstration began spitting on the sit-in protesters and yelling racial slurs at them. When the black demonstrators refused to respond and continued sitting peacefully, the violence escalated. The white people beat the demonstrators with wooden ax handles and baseball bats and soon spread into the streets of downtown Jacksonville, attacking black people indiscriminately. According to reports, members of the Ku Klux Klan organized the “Ax Handle Saturday” attack, which left more than fifty people injured.

As bloodied and battered black children fled to a nearby church to seek refuge, many white police officers joined the mob violence, arrested the fleeing civil rights demonstrators, or did nothing. “The intent was to scare, intimidate, and bring physical harm,” Rodney Hurst later recalled. “Many times you could not draw a line between the Klan and law enforcement, because law enforcement were at least accomplices to a lot of the things the Klan did.”

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