In the summer of 1964, one of the most monumental, yet overlooked civil rights events took place, Rev. Charles Gallagher, S.J., an assistant history professor, said. The march in St. Augustine, Fla. in August took place as Congress was reviewing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“Most Americans don’t seem to know much about it because most of the history books and, largely, college courses you would get talk about Selma and Birmingham,” Gallagher said. “And for some reason this march in St. Augustine, Fla., gets left behind.”
The protest, he said, was a violent one: the government sent a bomb squad from the U.S. Army into St. Augustine. There was also fear of an assassination attempt on Martin Luther King, Jr. The Ku Klux Klan was gathering nightly.
“Every day and every evening there were arrests and there was violence,” Gallagher said. “It was a very, very explosive situation.”
On Thursday, the history department, the African and African Diaspora Studies Program, the Jesuit Institute, Catholic Studies, and Dean of MCAS Rev. Gregory Kalscheur, S.J., will host a screening of The Passage at St. Augustine in McGuinn 121 at 4:15 p.m.
“It’s a lovely opportunity for the students at BC to find out about an important historical event,” Gallagher said.
Following the screening of the film, there will be a panel discussion with both Clennon L. King, the filmmaker of St. Augustine, and a woman named Mimi Jones, a prominent racial and social justice activist. At the time of the St. Augustine protest, Jones was 19 years old. In an act of protest, she decided to swim in the all-white pool of a major hotel in St. Augustine. The owner saw her swimming and came out with a gallon of acid and poured it into the pool.
“As a Jesuit, I find inspiration from other Jesuit priests who have been at the forefront of breaking down racial barriers.”
-Rev. Charles Gallagher, S.J.
Gallagher first learned about the film when King reached out to him to make sure that his film was historically accurate. There was, at the time of the march, a Catholic archbishop in St. Augustine who declined to get involved in the movement. King wanted to include this archbishop in the film and asked if Gallagher, who wrote a book about this archbishop, could help him.
King drew inspiration for his film from his father, Clennon Washington King, Jr., who was the first black man to run for president in 1960. As a child, King learned a lot about the Civil Rights Movement from his father, specifically about the St. Augustine protest.
After finishing the film, King went back to St. Augustine late last year for a screening.
“The march itself had divided the city for many decades,” Gallagher said. “The townspeople—it’s one of their most electric memories.”
Gallagher was the one who pushed to have the film shown on campus. He reached out to fellow colleagues who offered him their help and agreed to co-sponsor the event.
“The collaboration and congeniality is really something that has been terrific,” he said.
Gallagher likes the idea of portraying the complex topic through film rather than through text, and he decided to bring it to BC during Black History Month.
Gallagher also cited the recent protests on campus, specifically the Black Lives Matter die-in in Saint Mary’s Hall last year and Eradicate Boston College Racism’s protests, as reasons why he wanted to show the film. He said that since the die-in, he has become much more in-tune with the racial issues on campus.
“It will be a way for us to create a constructive conversation about race that is appropriately and academically grounded,” he said.
Looking at the history of the struggle for racial equality, he believes, will allow BC to have a conversation about the role of race today.
“It’s interesting to me because of the Catholic component,” he said. “It brings up a discussion of Catholicism and racism.”
The film, he said, has been shown at several other schools, including Brandeis University. BC, he believes, is the first Catholic university where the film has been shown. That is significant because all of the historians have remarked how the influence or lack of influence of the Catholic Church in St. Augustine at the time caused the Catholic Church to miss an opportunity to take a position publically on the side of King and his movement, he said.
“As a Jesuit,” Gallagher said, “I find inspiration from other Jesuit priests who have been at the forefront of breaking down racial barriers.”
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor