Interview with Lura Readle Scarpitti 'Freedom on Our Mind' Producer

Freedom on Our Mind Movie Poster

"I'm just tired of the whitewashing of our history," says 'Freedom on Our Mind' producer Lura Readle Scarpitti, a West Augustine resident, who is passionate about telling the story of the civil rights movement in St. Augustine. Not just some of it, but all of it. 

The silence is over. 'Freedom on Our Mind' will be premiering at the St. Augustine Film Festival on January 22nd at the Lewis Auditorium at Flagler College, and the team behind the movie has set their minds on broadcasting to the world stories about a time in St. Augustine that are rarely mentioned when talking about the oldest city in the nation.

Writer and director Chad Light, executive producer Troy Blevins, and producer Lura Readle Scarpitti made it happen. They took the idea of putting spotlight on the civil rights movement in St. Augustine and turned it into a movie. "'Freedom on Our Mind' is something that evolved out of a conversation we had with Troy Blevins after he contacted me and Chad about an idea about creating something that had to do with the civil rights movement in St. Augustine," says Readle Scarpitti. "That evolved into what this project became. We were looking at a photograph of Martin Luther King and Clyde Jenkins in the jail cell, and he's like 'nobody knows who this guy is.'" 

Readle Scarpitti's passion is clear when it comes to shining a light on the time of the civil rights movement and the injustices made against people of color in St. Augustine at that time. "Nobody knows who Robert Hayling is, or a lot of the faces that had to do with the civil rights movement becoming what it is. Everybody knows Martin Luther King, Jr. and Andrew Young, and they understand that him coming here brought a lot of attention to the cause in St. Augustine, but really the genesis of that cause was people like Clyde Jenkins and Robert Hayling and of course, the kids at Florida Memorial, who he saw were not willing to be okay with the status quo. We are going to make sure that is known. Hayling saw that energy and that initiative and that drive from the youth in St. Augustine in general, and he said we have to do this. I can definitely organize this and make this something. The 400th St. Augustine anniversary was coming up and all of these things and protests that Hayling was organizing, and this activity got the attention of the larger group being that of the SCLC and Martin Luther King, and they said we can make something of this, we can disrupt this celebration and the economic benefit that the celebration was going to bring to the city by bringing our people down there and helping out."

'Freedom on Our Mind' is a movie based on factual events about a diverse group of film students that discover the connections between their own lives and the struggle in St. Augustine that came before the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"We decided to do a quasi-historical fiction if you want to say it that way, but it is not fiction. We also wanted to find a way, where we could incorporate modern-day use into the story to make it relevant for the modern-day youth as well," says Readle Scarpitti. "We want the city and beyond to see themselves and understand why they would find it interesting, so we decided to do this thing where we kind of were watching four students, who were putting together a student film, and that of course involves interviews, and going and finding archival footage. They were originally following Martin Luther King's footsteps, but they kind of get into talking to their first person, and they were like oh my there is more to this story, and 30 minutes later they are wondering, why nobody knows this."

On a shoestring budget, the movie came about, but where funding was short, passion and dedication claimed victory. While the lack of incentives makes it difficult to fund and create a movie in Florida and even less so in St. Augustine, a place that used to be known as the Winter Film Capital of the World because of the many silent films recorded here in the early 1900s, the team behind 'Freedom on Our Mind' became creative and used many local actors, used their bargaining skills and connections to produce a quality movie.

'Freedom on Our Mind' features a song sung by the chorus from the St. Johns County Center for the Arts at St. Augustine High School. "Chad had written a choral piece based on a song back then, and we needed to have it sung for the end of the movie. We were low budget, and we were trying to figure out how to do this without hiring a whole sound studio. I wanted to involve the youth, and what's better than to involve the local St. Augustine High School youth choir? They are phenomenal. Jeff Dodd has since retired, but when I approached him with it, they were honored to be a part of it. They gave up a Saturday morning during their summer break and stayed half a day."

Readle Scarpitti explains how she did not produce the movie with her own generation in mind. "I want the younger generation to understand the history, and to keep telling it, and to bring it forward so that they understand never again  that never again  we need to keep saying that, and we need to keep understanding what happened back then that got us to here, so that we can continue to try and fight some of these forces that are obviously still out there — hidden, but they are out there."

The movie is set to imprint in our minds the stories from the civil rights movement in St.  Augustine, when the black youth stood up for their rights, when local leaders led their people towards desegregation, when those who wanted the status quo responded with violence and when Robert Hayling invited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to St. Augustine to help disrupt the 400th-anniversary celebration and expose the truth about St. Augustine.

"We started talking about all of the misinformation out there, all of the stuff that is not known, the stuff that is known, and the stuff that people know incorrectly. We are just tired of people, even within the borders of our own county and city not understanding the importance of the events here," says Readle Scarpitti. "It was not just some little marches that happened around the plaza. These things were very well organized, but they were peaceful, and they became violent because there was a whole faction of this city, of the Caucasian side of the city, who didn't want to see change, and they were the ones who brought the trucks full of rocks and the yelling and screaming and bats. It was horrible."

'Freedom on Our Mind' is a movie based on historical facts, and the team went to great lengths to ensure that their research was correct. "One of the things that really shocked the heck out of us, when we were doing our research was how brutal the attack was on Robert Hayling and his other three friends, when they were discovered spying on a KKK event that basically was where the Flagler hospital is now. So that used to be an area owned by someone, who was KKK-friendly, and they would have rallies out there. This particular event was observed by or spied on by Robert Hayling and his three other friends, and they actually caught them ... and they put them up on stage and were going to light them on fire." 

The mission of the movie is clear when producer Readle Scarpitti talks about her vision. "I want people driving down MLK Avenue and going by St. Paul AME and St. Benedicts and having it hit them that First Baptist Church is right around the corner. The marches started from there. St. Mary's Church. All of these places, these marches came from and left. These kids left nice and clean and tidy, and they came back bloodied and dirty and muddy and beaten because they were just marching for their rights. And it was in our cute, sweet, quaint little town. That's what I hope that when people start to see this film, that they start realizing and start walking around the city, and instead of just seeing the other history, the Spanish history, they get that history too, and how much it meant to not just St. Augustine's breaking of segregation, but also to the effect that it had on the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The ripples went nationally. It was a drop here that reached all the way up to Washington D.C. and made Johnson basically get on everybody there and say we look like idiots, figure this out we gotta get this signed and move on."

Readle Scarpitti explains that most of the cast and crew were from the St. Augustine and Jacksonville areas, although some have moved on to other areas such as Georgia and California, where movie productions are more viable. "Zeus Scott, one of the male film students had been going to Flagler, but he left the school and was still pursuing acting. I actually discovered him, when I saw him in a play called 'Fool for Love' at the Limelight Theatre. I was watching him on stage, and we had not cast this male student lead, and I texted Chad and said I think we've found our Andre." 

Local historian Thomas Jackson from the Fort Mose Historical Society and the West Augustine Improvement Association even has a role in the movie. "We kind of have a character based on him, and then we were going to have an actor play him, but then we just thought why don't we just get TJ to do it? We need TJ to play himself."

The team behind 'Freedom on Our Mind' are long-time St. Augustine residents active in the community. Lura Readle Scarpitti and Chad Light were both writers and executive producers on the Emmy-nominated 2016 documentary "America's Untold Journey" featuring 450 years of African American history in the Americas, which had about 30 million viewers. If you did not have a chance to watch it, America's Untold Journey can be viewed on Amazon prime video.  

Executive producer Troy Blevins is a local realtor, consultant, and radio talk show host on "St. Augustine This Evening." Readle Scarpitti emphasizes Blevin's significant role in the success of the movie. "Troy as the executive producer, he definitely carries that title, because he is the one who said to us. I want to see this. I know you guys can put it together. Troy came up with the lion's share of the funding himself, probably a good 75 percent came from his pocket, and he had another silent investor who kicked in, whenever we needed some extra things."

"I'm excited that the St. Augustine Film Festival is where we're premiering it," says Readle Scarpitti. "With the idea of this being inherently a St. Augustine story, premiering it here is a no-brainer. We need people here to see it, and to understand it and to love it and to embrace it, and then we go forward from there."

Freedom on Our Mind the movie 2021

Freedom on Our Mind:

Director: Chad Light 
Screenwriter: Chad Light 
Producer: Lura Readle Scarpitti 
Executive Producer: Troy Blevins 
Cast: Erin Beute, Walter Colson, Edward Craig, Betty Hart, Thomas “TJ” Jackson, Victor Jones, Chad Light, JoAnn Carty, Brittany Paul, Nathan Philyaw, Kirsten Prince, Adrian B. Pulliam, Hannah Rachel, Zeus Xavier Scott, Breezy Sharp
Cinematographer: Andrew Paul Howell 
Editor: Chad Light, Dan Bagan, J. Michael Carr

Buy Your Tickets

'Freedom on Our Mind' premieres at the St. Augustine Film Festival on January 22nd at 10 a.m. The movie will be shown at the Lewis Auditorium at Flagler College. You can buy your tickets for Freedom on Our Mind here. 

Follow 'Freedom on Our Mind' on Instagram and on the 'Freedom on Our Mind' Facebook page to stay up to date on any future showings. 

Lewis Auditorium 14 Granada St St. Augustine, FL 32084 
January 22, 2022, 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM EST

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

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

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