In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we scoured the Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archives’ YouTube channel and revisited pivotal moments of the Civil Rights movement in Florida. From Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to Overtown, to protests in St. Augustine, here are five civil rights moments caught on film throughout our state.
South Floridians ride Freedom Trains to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech
“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”
These were the opening lines of Martin Luther King’s momentous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on August 28, 1963, in Washington D.C. at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Marchers gathered from all over the country to support and march alongside King, with a big contingent coming from South Florida. South Floridians traveled on one of many “freedom trains,” which transported people from all around the country to Washington D.C. for the march. This footage shows marchers boarding a train at the Seaboard Coast Line Station in Miami.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks in Overtown
Three years after the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and five years before his “I Have a Dream Speech,” King spoke at the Greater Bethel A. M. E. Church in Overtown, a church that is still standing today. It is now recognized in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. On February 11, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, King spoke to “an overflow crowd” about voting rights. At just 29, King was on way to becoming a national leader, speaking on behalf of the Southern Christian Leadership Council’s Crusade for Citizenship all around the country. This is a clip of an interview before the speech, with some footage of the speech as well.
Florida is the first state to adopt a poll tax
In 1889, Florida adopted a poll tax, the first state in the nation to do so. While the $2 tax applied to all voters around the country, regardless of race, many poor whites were able to circumvent the law. After 49 years, Florida abolished the poll tax in 1938 — largely because politicians were buying votes by paying for the tax, according to the Tampa Bay Times. U.S. Sen. Spessard Holland of Florida pushed for its abolition nationwide, which wouldn’t happen until 1966, when all poll taxes were abolished by the U.S. Supreme Court. This footage shows African-Americans registering to vote and voting in South Florida sometime between 1963 and 1964.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. comes to St. Augustine
Just 50 years ago, St. Augustine, America’s oldest city, was also one of its most segregated. Dr. Robert Hayling, a black dentist in St. Augustine, spearheaded many of the protests demanding racial equality throughout the city, the Tampa Bay Times reports. When Congress passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, St. Augustine was slow to change. While many black residents who grew up in St. Augustine disliked it, they accepted the deep-rooted segregation. Hayling, who moved to the city from Tallahassee, led a number of protests and invited civil rights activists, including Martin Luther King, to come to the city to challenge the unjust status quo. King visited St. Augustine in June 1964, a time when racial segregation was at an all time high. The local Ku Klux Klan terrorized and intimidated protestors throughout the city. On June 11, King attempted to lead a sit-in at the Monson Motor Lodge, a restaurant and motel which was highly segregated and would not allow blacks to swim in the pool. A week after King was refused entrance, demonstrators jumped into the swimming pool. In retaliation, the owner poured acid into the pool. These are scenes from the protest and an interview of King speaking about being denied admission.
Miami reacts to the Selma to Montgomery March for voting rights
In early 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. led protesters in a march from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery. The passive protest was met with bloody and violent attacks by officials, a day known as “Bloody Sunday.” Though it happened in another state, Miami was in no way isolated from the civil rights movements happening around the world. The reaction in Downtown Miami to the attacks in Selma, Alabama, is a perfect example of this. In this clip, a group of high school students gather at the Federal Building to protest the attacks on Selma marchers.