The governor and Cabinet sent a long-overdue Christmas present Thursday to a group of courageous Americans who were punished for exercising their constitutional rights. Acting as the Board of Executive Clemency, they asked the state to erase the arrest records of those who took part in civil rights protests in St. Augustine in the early 1960s.
St. Augustine was one of the national hot spots in the struggles before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The protests took place in the streets and at segregated lunch counters, motel swimming pools and the beach. Both black and white demonstrators were arrested on trumped-up charges and jailed. Many of the protesters were young, and their arrest records hung over them for decades and made it more difficult for them to get jobs.
State Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, asked Gov. Charlie Crist and the three departing Cabinet members — Attorney General Bill McCollum, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson — to pass the resolution. It asks the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to waive a $75 application fee and expunge the arrest records. The records would remain on file in the state archives so a historical record will not be lost.
However late, Thursday's action lifts the burden these civil rights protesters have carried for decades and acknowledges their sacrifices to end the reprehensible system of segregation.