James Jackson Kidnapped and Beaten by the KKK in St. Augustine Florida - A Living Legend In Our Midst

We have living legends in our midst. After years of searching the archives, reading the articles, watching the documentaries and asking around to find people, who could help give a better picture of what took place back in the early 1960s in St. Augustine, it turned out that all I needed to do was to go for a walk around West Augustine. 

On my way home from the Solomon Calhoun Center with my toddler in tow, I stopped to chat with some older gentlemen, who were fixing up a lawnmower, and I asked them if they fixed Briggs and Stratton engines. One of the older gentlemen came up to talk to me about fixing or replacing my old broken woodchipper engine. Little did I know that I was talking to a living legend. 

I am writing down his name and address, when I ask him the question, as I often do these days. "Did you, or do you know someone, who lived in St. Augustine in the early 1960s?" I explain that I am writing on a story about the people's view of the time of the civil rights movement in St. Augustine, so that the younger generations will know what happened and what it was really like.

He takes a step back, stops and looks at me. "You don't know who I am, do you?" 

I stare at the name on my notepad, trying to go through years of research in my head, embarrassed that I do not recognize his name.

"I am the young man, who was abducted by the Klan together with Dr. Hayling," he says. "Do you know who Dr. Hayling is?"

Chills went through me, because I know a little ... just a little, about Dr. Hayling and perhaps about what this older gentleman had gone through, but nothing I had read about the horrible events equaled having him tell me about that night himself.

James Jackson civil rights activists silent march St. Augustine 2022
James Jackson civil rights activists at the silent march on MLK Day in St. Augustine 2022.

His name is James Jackson. James Jackson is a living legend. James Jackson worked with Dr. Robert B. Hayling, he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in the streets of St. Augustine, and he was indeed abducted and beaten by the KKK back in 1963 together with Dr. Robert B. Hayling, James Hauser and Clyde Jenkins. 

James Jackson with Robert Hayling in 2009
James S. Jackson with Dr. Robert B. Hayling in 2009
Photo from the Accord Freedom Trail

After all of these years James Jackson talks about the event, as if it was just yesterday, but he adds a bit of humor to lighten it up. "Even though I was abducted by the Klan and didn't get lynched, in any situation there can be humor," he says. "My humorous anecdote to being abducted and nearly lynched is this that when they got us in there, they beat us, the whole nine yards, they were trying to decide on what to do with us. Somebody came up with the suggestion 'Let's hang those N....s.' That didn't worry me. Somebody else said 'No, let's burn those N....s.' That didn't bother me. Then somebody in the back of the crowd made the statement 'No, let's castrate those N.....s,' and I said I gotta get out of here now."

James Jackson might try to lighten it up for me, but I have read part of his story, and I want to share it with you, because this man has lived and survived through the worst of the civil rights movement in St. Augustine. In 2016, the St. Augustine Record shared a video of Jackson telling his story from that night, and I think his own words tell it the best.

I ask Jackson, why he thinks it is important that the younger generations learn about the civil rights movement and what happened in St. Augustine, and it is clear that at the age of 77, James Jackson is still an activist, and his voice is as strong as ever. 

"The younger generations need to know, because without a past, you have no future," Jackson says. "If you don't know where you came from ... You don't want to go and go back there again, you want to go and move forward. Young people today are satisfied. Once you become satisfied, you become stagnant. You don't move anymore. You become pacified yes, satisfied never."

Jackson's activism did not stop at the age of the civil rights movement, and he explains that he used to stand on the corner of King Street with Black Lives Matter signs. 

James Jackson civil rights activist St. Augustine Florida
James Jackson standing on the corner of King Street in 2017 holding up Black Lives Matter signs.
Photo from the St. Augustine Record

Before parting ways, I apologize to Jackson for what he had to go through, and Jackson sends me on my way with a little wisdom.  

"You cannot go and be a solitude individual," Jackson says. "This is my belief. For mankind to advance and achieve, we must all get along. We've got one big problem today, we've got a big problem countrywide. We have got to get the word United back into the U.S.A. United States of America. We've got to get the word United back in. We can all agree to disagree. One man is not an island. Nor is he totally always correct."

We have living legends living all over West Augustine, Lincolnville, and St. Augustine, but even more so we have people living everywhere around us, who grew up in the 1960s, who lived through the era of Jim Crow, and there are so many stories that should be shared before they are lost.

It is so easy to judge, but I urge all of you to take the time to listen. There are so many stories hiding in plain view that we all need to learn from and never forget. I urge you to see beyond what you may initially think when you see someone standing at the side of the street, sitting in their backyards, in their front yards, riding their bikes, or walking down the sidewalk. All of these people have stories, and their stories might just surprise you, their stories might just teach you something about our past, about humankind, and about life. 

If you want to learn more about this living legend in St. Augustine, please watch the oral history video below with James Jackson from 2018, where he was interviewed by Raja Rahim and Charity Kelly as a part of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida.

If you would like to learn more about James Jackson:

10 Who Make a Difference: James Jackson by Anne Heyman in the St. Augustine Record

Florida - St. Augustine James S. Jackson Interviewee audio from Tulane University

James S. Jackson - Integrating St. Augustine, Fla, Pool - Voices of the Civil Rights Movement video about his experience at the Monsoon pool  

If you want to learn more about what happened during the civil rights movement in St. Augustine, go see the premiere of Freedom on Our Mind, a movie based on factual stories.

Read my interview with Freedom on Our Mind producer Lura Readle Scarpitti here, and learn how you can get a ticket to the premiere.

If you want to honor those who sacrificed so much for all of us back during the height of the civil rights movement in St. Augustine, come join the Silent March in Lincolnville on Monday, January 17th at 11:30 am. The march starts at 86 MLK Avenue and ends at the Plaza de la Constitucion.

Silent March in st. Augustine Florida

*This piece was originally posted on the West Augustine News Connection on January 14, 2022.

Find more Real Florida Stories here.

Find more pieces about the St. Augustine Civil Rights Movement here. 

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