Weekend Reads: “It Was Never About a Hot Dog and a Coke”
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
August 27, 2020, will be the 60th anniversary of a horrific event in the history of Jacksonville, Fla.: Ax Handle Saturday.
Rodney Hurst was 16 years old when the event took place. He was president of his local NAACP Youth Council chapter; his elementary school history teacher, Rutledge Pearson was the adult advisor. Pearson encouraged Hurst to join the chapter at age 11. The students learned public speaking techniques and parliamentary procedure, as well as how to coordinate actions for civil rights.
Thus, Hurst and some of his fellow council members planned a sit-in at the local Woolworth lunch counter. Black people could shop at Woolworth with no problem, but they were expected to sit at a separate lunch counter located on the top story of the store next to the restroom. Reasoning that if they could pay for things on the first floor, they should also eat on the first floor, the students each went in and bought an item. That way, they would have receipts to prove that Woolworth had accepted their money. Then, they went to the lunch counter.
After a few sit-ins, where they were refused service, the local Klan got wind of the situation and planned a day when they would go beat Black people up, using baseball bats and ax handles that would be strategically placed for access. Local law enforcement turned a blind eye and shop owners locked their doors to prevent Black people from being able to escape the violence. White people who tried to help them were subject to similar abuses.
Hurst not only writes about that day but also about the aftermath, including a “selective buying campaign,” as they called their boycott of downtown businesses that had closed their doors. Hurst also discusses his work with other civil rights leaders of the era, who listened to his experiences rather than dismissing him because of his youth.
As the title of the book points out, integrating the lunch counters (which did eventually happen in Jacksonville) was not about eating lunch but about pointing out the hypocrisy and ensuring equal access.
Highly recommended for those who wish to have a better understanding of the times, and of Black history beyond the more famous incidents and people.