||Wing Span Press
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“It was never about a hot dog and a Coke®”, is subtitled “A Personal Account of the 1960 Sit-in Demonstrations in Jacksonville, Florida and Ax Handle Saturday”, and recounts the events leading up to and the fallout from the bloody events of August 27, 1960. The author is Rodney L. Hurst, Sr., who was the President of the Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP at the time.
On that day, 200 ax handle wielding whites attacked members of the Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP, staging sit-in demonstrations at white lunch counters in downtown Jacksonville. Aptly named Ax Handle Saturday by the media, the event gained national attention, and thrust Hurst and the Youth Council NAACP into the spotlight of the Civil Rights era.
Part memoir, part history and part biography, Hurst writes with clarity and an historical eye as he provides a chronicle and an in-depth look at the times, the mood, and the people of Jacksonville in a time of high tension and change.
It never ceases to amaze me how selective our memories are when it comes to situations filled with embarrassment, shame, and hurt. We choose to forget turbulent times rather than learn from them, as if not talking about them will make them go away. Just as closing our eyes does not cause us to go blind, shutting our mouths does nothing to erase memories or make events disappear from history.
Unfortunately, many whites and Blacks in Jacksonville, Florida have yet to grasp that reality. They have rationalized away the days of racism and segregation while insisting they stay buried in the past. On the surface, "Let bygones be bygones" sounds plausible. But U.S. philosopher and poet George Santanyana (1863-1952) said those "who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." To paraphrase his words, those who do not learn about their past will assuredly repeat it.
The civil rights movement in the late fifties and early sixties is a history of brave and unselfish Black leaders fighting against racism and segregation, and for the equality of all people in the United States.
Most Black and White citizens of Selma, Birmingham, Memphis, and Atlanta are acutely familiar with the violent civil rights struggles that occurred in their cities. Though the struggles in those cities may be more familiar, Jacksonville was not immune to the same type of cruelties.
I want to share with you a facet of Jacksonville’s history very few are willing to discuss, let alone embrace. Although its darkness may give Jacksonville's reputation a black eye, the eye-opening details, when synthesized, provide a remarkable history worth telling.
Melissa D. Levine - Independent Professional Book Reviewers
Author Rodney L. Hurst, Sr. offers a historical gift to the literary world in his memoir It Was Never About a Hot Dog and a Coke. Hurst provides a detailed account of his involvement in the August 27, 1960 sit-ins at Jacksonville, Florida whites-only lunch counters. The demonstration erupted in violence instigated by a white mob wielding baseball bats and ax handles. The day became known as Ax Handle Saturday. This event elevated a young Hurst to the position of civil rights fighter and shaped the life of a man who continues to be vocal about the plight of African Americans in the United States.
Hurst was only eleven-years-old when he joined the Youth Council National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) under the encouragement of his junior high school American History teacher, Rutledge Pearson. Through the years, Pearson became Hurst’s mentor and friend. The admiration that Hurst feels for his late teacher is expressed throughout the pages of this book.
“How do you maintain your dignity in a segregated society designed to take your dignity? You continue to hold your head high (19).”
Jacksonville in 1960 was typical of many southern towns. Jim Crow laws were both real and enforced in churches, schools, and retail stores. The Youth Council, led by Pearson, Hurst, and other prominent adult figures in the NAACP, strategically and non-violently pushed for the integration of white lunch counters in Woolworth, Kress, and McCrory Department stores. Hurst, who at sixteen-years-old was president of the Youth Council, and his peers—young and courageous junior high and high school students—sat quietly at lunch counters as white waitresses and managers refused to serve them. And the white patrons tormented them with racial slurs and physical assaults. The violence that took place on August 27th was the white community’s response to the on-going sit-ins, but the blood that was spilt that day involved blacks who were not even a part of the Youth Council’s cause.
I am writing this review in the month of April during the week of the fortieth anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination and nearly three weeks after Barak Obama’s speech on race in America. As I read about the sit-ins and the responses of some white citizens in Jacksonville (Hurst makes a point of highlighting whites who were supportive of the Youth Council’s efforts), I frequently turned away from the book. The images the narrative conjures up were disturbing. As an African American woman, I have grown-up seeing the type of images Hurst describes. But as a mother with a son who is now only a year younger than Hurst was when he was leading this group of young people, I am disgusted by the cowardice that drove a mob of so-called adults to attack children. Reading this book while absorbing the significance of the aforementioned events left me raw and also proud. Proud that Hurst was courageous enough to participate in the Civil Rights Movement and proud that he continues to serve the cause over forty years later.
“When we started sit-in demonstrations, we wanted everyone to know eating a hot dog and drinking a Coke would not be our focus. Human dignity and respect would be our fundamental focus… (55).”
It Was Never About a Hot Dog and a Coke is a dramatic, effective account of demonstrations that contributed to the shaping of civil rights for African Americans in the United States. The author’s offering of historical detail is a gift that should be shared with the young and the old as proof that individuals can permanently alter oppressive systems that ultimately affect us all.
Rod Clark for Bookreview.com
Rating: Must Read!
We have a myth in this country, propagated perhaps by an exaggerated faith in the nature of our ineluctable liberties, and our much vaunted “free press.” The myth says that the truth is something that has natural buoyancy, and that given the slightest opportunity it will rise of its own accord. But sometimes painful truths are suppressed by the media to preserve the comfort level of the status quo, and strenuous efforts by courageous people are required to bring it forward into the light. Rodney Hurst’s powerful new book, It was never just about a Hot Dog and a Coke focuses on just such a struggle: the struggle to reveal the truth about the events that led to a dark and shameful moment in American history, and a transformation of how America viewed segregation in the south.
On August 27th of 1960, more than two hundred white segregationists armed with axe handles and baseball bats attacked 35 unarmed black teenage members of the Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP as they sat peacefully at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Jacksonville, Florida. This horrific and shameful attack, designed to prevent black people from being seated and served, received virtually no coverage from the major media in the Jacksonville area, and only surfaced in the national news by virtue of the strenuous efforts of the local NAACP, black news papers and the determination of the black community. Jacksonville police did nothing to prevent the attack, and in fact, encouraged it. The attack triggered serious violence between whites and blacks in the Jacksonville area, and came close to triggering serious armed conflict. One of Hurst’s themes is that irrational hatred and prejudice can only be preserved in social institutions when vital facts are suppressed, and ignorance is preserved. Newspapers, and other media of the white community in Jacksonville, could have reported the truth about the attack, what lead up to it, and what followed it. They could have tried to defend what happened from a segregationist point of view. Instead, through neglect and deliberate effort, they tried to suppress and distort news about the entire sequence of events.
Although Mr. Hurst, now in his sixties, was the sixteen-year old leader of the young people involved in the famous sit in, he makes his extraordinarily convincing case not as an angry propagandist, but as a thoughtful historian. He felt the need to write this book from the “inside” perspective because, as he successfully argues, the best local coverage at the time came from black newspapers that were not read outside that community. The local white papers covered these events minimally, in a distorted fashion, or not at all. In addition the national press—and many of the books written on the subject since those days—simply got the facts wrong. What Hurst provides in a way that has not been revealed before is the full social and cultural context in which these events unfolded.
The Jacksonville of 1960 was a profoundly segregated one, and Hurst paints a powerful and fascinating sketch of the lives of black people in that segregated reality. Denied access to many white institutions, black people had their own theaters, their own barbershops, beauty shops, haberdasheries, shoe stores, and newspapers. As the picture of that reality emerges, Hurst makes a powerful case (based on facts, not rhetorical assertions) that the preservation of segregation was based on deep rooted lies. Schools were much more poorly funded than white schools, undermining the claim that black schools were separate but equal. Ironically, many of the black schools were named after Confederate generals whose names were then impressed on books, documents, and the cement of the institutions themselves. In one case, a school was actually named after the Confederate General who founded the KKK! White church audiences in Jacksonville were often treated to sermons in which biblical passages were cited to justify the morality of segregationist policies. Hurst also cited many instances in which opportunities were curtailed for talented young people, including some remarkable athletes whose rise was impeded because of their color.
For young Hurst, the first step toward reclaiming his history was through a wonderful set of adult role models in the community, including series of remarkable teachers in his high school who taught students to value themselves and take pride in their community. He mentions many of them fondly in the book—in particular, his history teacher, Rutledge Henry Pearson, who laid the prescribed text aside and taught students the history of black people, locally and nationally. In the process Pearson helped students develop a sense of esteem and self–value that lead to an understanding of the oppressive nature of the segregated system under which they lived. EDUCATION was the tool of self awareness, and teachers like Pearson helped set students on the path to recognizing their condition. Other adult leaders in the local NAACP helped members of the Jacksonville youth Council of the NAACP decide that something needed to be done to change that condition. That decision, arrived at by the students themselves, led to the peaceful sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter, and triggered a terrifying confrontation with the white community.
Hurst’s account of what unfolded is full of chilling and fascinating moments. We hear how weapons were gathered for the attack as police looked the other way. We hear accounts of how one local paper tried to persuade a wire service not to report the unfolding story for national coverage. (The wire service refused). We are made cognizant of the astounding courage of the black students who were willing to be physically beaten to stand up for their rights. We witness the bravery of a remarkable young white man, Richard Parker, who joined the sit-in, and had to be rescued from a white mob by young members of a black gang called the “boomerangs.”
Over time, American and world opinion has recognized the heroism of the brave teenagers who challenged segregation and were beaten for it. The sit-ins have even been honored by a commemorative stamp. As Mr. Hurst explains, the demonstrations were about “human dignity and respect. Lunch counters were just visible and convenient venues to attack racial discrimination.”
Whether you are black or white it is hard to read this book without experiencing grief, horror and dismay over these events which happened only a few short decades ago. WingSpan Press deserves kudos for printing it—but this book should have been published by a major press. (Any university press in Florida, for example would have been enhanced and honored by printing it.) It is my hope that in the future, historians will look to this excellent little book to get the inside story of what really happened at a sit-in at a white lunchroom in Jacksonville in 1960. What lead to it—and what followed. There is history to be ashamed of here—but also heroes to be proud of. This is a book that every American who cares about truth and history should
read and appreciate.
Sabrina Sumshion for Sabrina Book Reviews
When eleven-year old Rodney Hurst accepted his American History teacher’s invitation to join the Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP, he could not have guessed at the enormous impact it would have on his life, Jacksonville, Florida's history, or the Civil Rights Movement. It was never about a hot dog and a Coke, released in February, 2008 is subtitled “A Personal Account of the 1960 Sit-in Demonstrations in Jacksonville, Florida and Ax Handle Saturday” and recounts the events leading up to and the fallout from the bloody events of August 27, 1960. Black youths who had been staging sit-in demonstrations at white downtown lunch counters were attacked by 200 ax handle and baseball bat wielding whites. Played down locally, the event gained national attention and thrust Hurst and the Youth Council into the spotlight of the Civil Rights era. The book is a captivating history lesson, whether you were there, only heard the stories, or, as is the case with so many people today, know next to nothing about the violent years of the Civil Rights struggle.
Reviewer: Sabrina Sumsion
Rated: Thumbs Way Up!
Just by the title, the reader knows that this book is charged. Most everyone in the country from young children to elderly adults knows about the super-charged racial tensions in the South during the 1960's. Most adults are keenly aware of the tension between "blacks" and "whites" still existing. With this presidential election containing an African American candidate, the race issue is upfront and personal in our nation. As Colbert King, an op-ed columnist for the Washington Post brought up in a recent article, race can no longer be a non-issue. It is an issue. It will be an issue until people of all colors of skin can sit and have open, honest dialog. I say, it's about time!
It Was Never About a Hot Dog and a Coke is an honest and in depth look at the community of Jacksonville Florida during the height of the civil rights movement in the United States from the perspective of an African American male. It is written by the then president of the Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP. He was there and helped organize the sit-ins that challenged the segregation policies. The anger from this challenge led to unforgivable (in my mind) Ax Handle Saturday.
What this book has to offer beyond what I have read in other places is the unsung heroes. Rodney Hurst Sr. has done his homework and presents pictures, newspaper articles and names of the key people from both sides of the issue. The good and the bad, Mr. Hurst documents the situation well.
The best part of this narration, to me as a white woman reading It Was Never About a Hot Dog and a Coke, was the fairness. This book could easily have been a black supremacy, whites are evil manifesto. Many white people committed atrocious crimes in that era (and many other times) and justified it by thinking somehow a few genes' difference made them better than another. Instead, the narration of the book simply states the actions taken by the parties in the area. There are countless stories of senseless actions that justify anger and hatred but the book is instead filled with dignity and respect. I applaud the author for treating this subject with divine amounts of grace and tact.
To me, race is one of those things that I was raised to ignore. I credit my mom mostly for that. She is the epitome of the "Aryan" race with blue eyes and naturally light blond hair but she taught me from an early age that the color of someone's skin doesn't matter one whit. I still think she's right. She taught me "by their fruits ye shall know them" and I believe her. Underneath it all, we are human. We all bleed red. Some stupid cosmetic difference does not grant one person more rights than another.
I also know that I have never endured racism. I have friends that are minorities that have told me stories of having to physically protect themselves from being attacked simply because of the color of their skin or the slant of their eyes. I feel blessed that I have only once witnessed racism. Without incriminating myself, I was appalled and took steps to ensure the event never repeated. I think the most shocking thing to me was that racism STILL existed and it was close to home. Shouldn't we be enlightened by now? Really, is it that hard just to play nice and get along?
Mr. Hurst states in the book that there isn't a simple answer to this problem. I don't have any magical solutions to this problem which has affected our nation for centuries either. I feel at times I am an insignificant speck in a pool of tension and not big enough to make a difference. I am not wise enough to have the magic key but I do have hope for the future. As I looked into my baby daughter's eyes after finishing this book, her smile gave me hope. Maybe, if I'm a good enough mother and teach my children to follow the example of our Savior and love everyone regardless of frivolous differences, I will be a part of the solution.
This book is awesome and eye opening. This is a book everyone, regardless of race, religion or creed should read. I hope teachers everywhere will consider this book as part of curriculum in American History classes. I also hope it can be a tool to opening people's eyes to the damage stupidity and ignorance can bring. Bless Mr. Hurst for this non-media biased peek into the events of that era in out history.
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