The Accord Freedom Trail commemorates one of the great moments of the Civil Rights movement, the demonstrations in St. Augustine, FL, which led to the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Trail Historian David Nolan says that "There were two great legislative accomplishments of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. One was the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which grew directly out of the demonstrations in Selma, Alabama and the famous march from Selma to Montgomery.
The other was the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which came directly from the demonstrations in the nation's oldest city, St. Augustine, Florida, in 1964. The Civil Rights Act outlawed racial segregation in hotels, motels restaurants, and schools and job discrimination--not just against Blacks, but against women as well. It has been one of the most influential laws in American history, and I have always considered it to be St. Augustine's greatest gift to America."
But with a long history of segregation and slavery, local authorities in St. Augustine were not keen to preserve the memory of the struggles. Nolan says that: "Many local whites bitterly opposed civil rights, and the St. Augustine campaign has often been cited as one of the movement's bloodiest battles.
It is not surprising, therefore, that local officials were delighted to preside over the demolition of nationally-important civil rights landmarks like the Monson Motel (the only place in Florida where Martin Luther King was arrested, and where the largest mass arrest of rabbis in American history took place in 1964), and the Ponce de Leon Motor Lodge (where the arrest of the 72-year-old mother of the governor of Massachusetts for asking to be served in a racially integrated group made front page news around the nation a few months earlier that year). One city official said 'We don't want to preserve THAT history!'"
The Anniversary to Commemorate the Civil Rights Demonstrations, or ACCORD was founded in 2003. The first priority was to save historic civil rights sites from demolition, says Nolan "The idea behind the Freedom Trail was that if we put historic markers on civil rights sites, it would at least slow down the process of demolition. I am happy to say that we have marked 30 places, and none of them has been destroyed. We did this with the support of the Northrop Grumman Corporation, our largest private employer. It is kind of an open-air 24/7 museum, with no admission charge."
The Freedom Trail lets people understand the part played by St. Augustine, Nolan explains: "It shows people where major events occurred that changed America for the better, and helped to inspire the world. Visitors can now see where Martin Luther King stayed, where Jackie Robinson spoke, where students sat-in at segregated lunch counters, where movement leaders like Dr. Robert Haylihng lived and worked.
They can even see the jail, where so many civil rights supporters were incarcerated in the 1960s. It is a lesson in true history." Continuing its work, ACCORD opened the first Civil Rights Museum in the state of Florida on July 2, 2014, the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.