ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- In 1964 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made several trips to the oldest city in the U.S., during the height of tensions rising in St Augustine as people fought for and against civil rights. He preferred to sleep in a home where those involved in the movement would gather, a Victorian built in 1930 owned by Mrs. Cora Tyson.
On her stoop, the two would sit on pleasant spring nights, "We would always get the breeze from the ocean," said Tyson.
She explains they sought peace with Klu Klux Klan members driving by, "We would be sitting here, we could see them driving along slowly."
Cora Tyson's Lincolnville home became a haven during the civil rights movement. It sits in an area of St. Augustine founded by freed slaves. Among the guests she warmly welcomed was a man who would change hearts and minds around the globe.
"He said he was on a mission, God had sent him on a mission," said Tyson reflecting on her time with King.
His life's work guided him to St Augustine in 1964, through Jacksonville's woods, down dark desolate roads.
"There was no I-95 then," said Historian, David Nolan who for decades has studied what he calls St. Augustine's hidden past. A time when Klan members roamed proudly, sparking fear to keep cruel order.
"They would send a caravan of cars to protect him because the Klu Klux Klan types here all had radios and they would be out there and there were members of hunting clubs that had their land out there and people were afraid that Dr. King wouldn't make it," said Nolan.
He explains the story behind a photo of cracked glass surrounding a bullet hole in King's rented beach cottage, the result of encouraged vicious attacks, "The newspaper ran directions on the front page of how to find the cottage that had been rented for Martin Luther King and before he ever had a chance to spend the night there it was shot up and fire bombed."
The cottage was attacked several times. Still, King remained in St Augustine.
"He never got excited I don't care what happened, he never got flustered or frustrated,” said Tyson. “He would be very calm. That's what impressed me about him."
Mrs. Tyson, now 93 years old recalls King's soft voice and calm nature.
"He never had an interview with anyone until he meditated,” said Tyson. “He meditated all of the time. He would sit there and drop his head.”
She saw the private side of a very public figure.
"When I heard him in Washington D.C. I said no that's not the King I know,” exclaimed Tyson. “I sat there and I watched him, his voice was so much different. It was so strong!"
His voice among the pain, collectively with those who risked their lives protesting segregation would create change.
King's only arrest in the state of Florida happened at the Monson Motor Lodge, it was then the new hotel on the bayfront. On June 11, 1964 Dr. King attempted to go inside wanting to be served, leading to his arrest. His fingerprints are now on display in the Lincolnville Museum.
"We had many bad things that have happened in St Augustine but here's a case of people standing up for what's right, and the changes brought by the civil rights movement in St. Augustine benefited the country and inspired the world," said Nolan.
A photograph hung on the walls of the ACCORD Civil Rights Museum shows a side of King not often seen. A smiling face with two fingers in the air, taken across the street from Mrs. Tyson's home.
"He's heard that the civil rights act had just passed in Washington and he went from here to the White House for the signing of the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964," said Nolan.
About two years later, on April 4, 1968 in the same home where King once rested, Mrs. Tyson says her body went into shock as she was told Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had be assassinated.
"I felt that I had lost a friend,” said Tyson. “He was more like a father to me. He was more like a father to me."
You've likely learned about St Augustine's colonial history. But the city also has a rich black history with many untold stories and hidden figures. Throughout the month of February on Good Morning Jacksonville, FCN will bring you those stories on Back in the Day with GMJ.