Once upon a hard and terrible time, the front lines of the battle for civil rights were drawn in the streets of St. Augustine – and a gentle girl-child from Middleburg was right in the middle of it.
Maude Burroughs was the next to the youngest of Ed and Lena Burroughs’ nine children.
In 1960, she began her studies at Florida Industrial and Normal School in St. Augustine and commuted to classes with her older brother and sister.
The next year, after siblings Anne and Eddie graduated, Maude was invited to live with a local family. Over time, she met many influential and respected members of St. Augustine’s black community, including Dr. Robert Hayling and Katherine and Henry Twine. From them she learned of the principals and activities of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Maude was drawn like an ant to a picnic by the non-violent nature of the organization and the simple dignity and restraint of its leaders.
She became a routine visitor and worker at NAACP headquarters in a building on Bridge Street. The group’s offices were provided by Dr. Hayling who, in addition to leading the St. Augustine Civil Rights Movement, conducted his dental practice at the site.
Maude’s participation gradually evolved to a more vulnerable level of visibility – organizing and participating in public sit-ins and picketing.
Until sometime in her junior year, activities of the Movement and Maude’s participation remained pretty much the same. They constantly struggled to recruit participants and attract enough attention from the media to be taken seriously. Local leaders were convinced that only Dr. Martin Luther King and his associates in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference could generate the kind of powerful draw that was required to bring about change.
Maude and her group went into the restaurant and sat at a table – just like they had done many times at lunch counters in town. The next thing she knew, the parking lot and the street were covered up with police cars and men. Bedlam ensued, and Maude was off to her first time in jail.
They were abruptly hustled outside and loaded into police cars encouraged by nipping police dogs, painful jabs with cattle prods and a cacophony of angry, conflicting orders and shouts from the men in blue.
Near that same time, MLK came to St. Augustine to speak at a mass meeting at St. Paul’s. This was huge. The little office on Bridge Street was constantly filled with people asking questions and offering to help.
Young Maude thought she knew what she was getting into, but she didn’t. Could anyone anticipate what was coming or comprehend the vicious, grotesque levels of hell that could exist in fellow human beings? Or understand how the coming to St. Augustine of a gentle preacher from Atlanta, a man of serene valor and composed courage could be the catalyst to ignite the best in some people and the worst in others.
After from the rousing event, the leaders gathered in the office. Maude sat on the floor – so the adults in the inner circle of The Movement could have the seats – and listened to him talk.
In April of 1964, Dr. King and his associates in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference chose St. Augustine as the place to draw a line in the sand and focus national attention on a Senate locked in a filibuster that threatened to scuttle the long-awaited Civil Rights Bill.
Over the next two months Maude’s life was hectic, exciting and at times filled with terror. All the leaders of the National Civil Rights Movement spent time in St. Augustine that spring and early summer of 1964, determined to focus the attention of Northern newspapers and network television on the happenings in the city.
Maude listened to the likes of Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy and Hosea Williams speak in the church.
In May, the nightly mass marches began. Municipal legislation was hastily passed prohibiting the marches – but they kept right on. Now in addition to vile name calling and threats with the occasional bottle flying into their ranks, Maude and her fellow marchers were subject to arrest and outrageous fines.
On June 9, a federal judge limited fines and incarceration and ruled night marches legal. This was a major success for the local Movement and had tremendous consequences for other areas of the nation. The next day, in Washington, the U.S. Senate voted to end the filibuster and vote on the Civil Rights Bill. The St. Augustine campaign was working. Enthusiasm was high for the march that evening.
It was the bloodiest night of the Movement.
Marchers were accustomed to random missiles flying and vicious beatings of individual demonstrators, but this was different – an organized and choreographed assault. Klansmen from all over the Southeast had trailed the media circus correctly sensing the powerful momentum for change emanating from the Nation’s Oldest City.
Suffering horror and shock, they managed to gather up the unconscious and bloody and retreated to the church and offices of the Movement.
On July 2, the 1964 Civil Rights Bill was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. Also in July, Maude married David Ham and went on to an illustrious career in education. After retirement Maude returned home to Middleburg where she continues to nurture and teach the young ones whether in her Hilltop Black Heritage Museum or the after school program.
The people she encountered and events she witnessed over her four years at Florida Memorial College in St. Augustine forged and shaped the woman of dignity, courage and compassion she has become. There are whispers of gray in her hair now but the heart of the fighter for justice and fairness remains.