Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP), University of Florida, September 12, 2014
Event Now Available Online for Rabbis’ Return to St. Augustine, FL in Commemoration of Civil Rights Mass Arrest
Gainesville, FL—On June 18, 2014, the St. Augustine Jewish Historical Society presented a two-day symposium, “Justice, Justice 1964” in honor of the 50th anniversary of the largest mass arrest of rabbis in the United States, which occurred in St. Augustine, FL in June 1964, during civil rights demonstrations. Rabbis returned to St. Augustine for the first time in fifty years to commemorate the event, record oral histories, and participate in an evening community panel about their work and activism. The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program recorded oral history interviews and recorded the evening panel event, now available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHd5POj-BxA
In June 1964, the sixteen rabbis and one Reform Movement administrator traveled to St. Augustine at the invitation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who requested their support for local efforts in the civil rights movement. During the June protests, all of the rabbis and one administrator were arrested in the largest mass arrest of rabbis in national history.
While imprisoned overnight, the rabbis wrote a now-famous letter, “Why We Went: A Joint Letter from the Rabbis Arrested in St. Augustine, Florida June 19, 1964,” later published across the nation as a call for action and interfaith solidarity in support of the civil rights movement.
Six of the original sixteen rabbis returned to the city in June for the anniversary event, and spoke at a public panel event at Flagler College, where they read from the now-famous letter and discussed their experiences. The panel was moderated by Dr. Paul Ortiz, the director of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program.
As recorded in the St. Augustine Record, Rabbi Israel Si Dresner’s reflected at the anniversary: “You’ve lionized us, and we really appreciate that. I thank you from the bottom of my heart, but the real heroes are not the people who came down here for a couple of days — namely us. The real heroes were the people who fought the battle day and night, week after week, month after month, year after year.”
The Florida Humanities Council, St. Paul AMEC, and Samuel Proctor Oral History Program were involved in sponsoring and documenting the anniversary events. For more information about these oral histories and the panel, please visit the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program’s website, , or call the office at 352-392-7168.