Donald Trump has sparked fury after it was announced that he will accept the Republican nomination for the presidency on the 60th anniversary of a shocking racist attack in Florida.
On 27 August 1960 33 Black teenagers who were staging a peaceful against a 'whites only' food counter at a department store in Jacksonville were violently attacked by 200 white men, armed with weapons and dressed as Confederate soldiers, leaving many of the youngsters bloodied and beaten.
The incident became known as Ax Handle Saturday due to many of the white men brandishing the tool as a weapon and now more than half a century later, one of the most divisive and bigoted presidents in history will accept the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention, on the exact same day, just miles away from where the attack happened.
One of the men who was attacked that day was Rodney Hurst, who was just 16 when he led the protest. Now aged 76, Hurst, who still lives in Jacksonville, told NBC News that he will be part of an opposing event to the RNC which will be commemorating Ax Handle Saturday:
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about that Saturday. It was real and surreal. We had heard something was going to happen, but we didn’t know what. But we protested anyway. Our commemoration will be outside. We will wear masks and we encourage social distancing. We will represent an interesting contrast on a day that white racist thugs attacked teenagers with bats and ax handles. We will highlight the cowardly way whites in the South dealt with our quest for Blacks’ seeking human dignity and respect.
Speaking of Ax Handle Saturday and W.T. Grant’s department store, where the attack happened, Hurst added:
We could spend our money there, but not eat where we wanted. We had had enough. And we did not let the attackers deter us. We knew they were coming and we voted to sit in anyway. And after an agreed ‘cooling off’ period (of three weeks), we continued to protest and sit in.
Hurst was equally critical of Trump, who he can't help but feel will be forever linked to the history of Ax Handle Saturday from now on.
He’s part and parcel to the problem. I really don’t care if he comes or not to Jacksonville. Trump will be inextricably linked now to Ax Handle Saturday. He’s a racist president who deals with public events inside during a pandemic. … Not a good legacy.
Other Jacksonville natives have spoken out in disgust at the thought of Trump being in their city on such a significant day. Ericka Durant is quoted as saying:
Sick to my stomach. Trump accepting the nomination on the anniversary date of a literal race riot in Jacksonville is not only disgusting, but given the current tension surrounding race relations in this country, it is frightening. There’s fear for what may happen if and when protestors show up while the president is in town. Fear for a rage that is already at its boiling point.
Fear because there is a virus that is still very active in the city, and the cases are growing daily. Fear because people are putting their lives at risk to fight for justice, and are being mocked by those that don’t understand.
How much more can we take? Is this going to be the breaking point for race relations and racism in 2020? I pray it isn’t, but right now I feel like that is all I can do.
Anna Coleman, who admits to having only recently learned of Ax Handle Saturday, was also appalled at Trump's presence in Jacksonville on 27 August.
The Black community has a never-ending fight for justice and equality, so to say that this is not the time is an understatement. It’s all outrageous.
On Twitter, people have been reminding others of the legacy of Ax Handle Saturday and why Trump and RNC holding their event on such an occasion is so controversial.
On 8/27/60, 40 members of the @NAACP Youth Council in Jacksonville, FL held a sit-in. Hundreds of white men brandis… https://t.co/lFVshladTH
Protests continued for seven months after Ax Handle Saturday leading to more boycotts throughout the city. Eventually, the restrictions were lifted in 1961 and Black people were finally allowed to eat at the food counter, which Hurst and his friend did every day for a week.
Despite their struggles 60 years ago, it is sobering that similar protests are still happening not just in America but around the world, something which Trump has firmly sided against. Whether using force to disperse the anti-racism protesters or deeming the Black Lives Matter movement as 'a symbol of hate' Trump has done little if anything to show support for those who are fighting for justice and equality.
Last month he was forced to move the date of a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma which was due to happen on the anniversary of 'Juneteenth' when slavery was abolished in the United States. He also drew criticism for holding the event in Tulsa, which is the location of a horrific race fuelled massacre in 1931 on 'Black Wall Street' which left 36 people dead.