Thomas Jackson is the first African American president of the St. Augustine Historical Society. And he now experiences racism firsthand
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — Because of the color of his skin, the new head of the St. Augustine Historical Society’s Board of Trustees was not allowed in one of its buildings at one point.
Thomas Jackson said, “I was born and raised in St. Augustine.”
As he looked through his 1969 St. Joseph’s Academy yearbook, he remembered, “There were only two black students in the class.”
Jackson just got the new job after being chosen for it.
He said, “I’m the first black person to be president of the St. Augustine Historical Society.” He found out this when he asked for a list of the people who have been president of the Board of Trustees since 1883. So far as he knows, he is the first Black person to hold that position.
The historical research library on Aviles Street is run by this group. When Jackson was growing up, the building was the town’s public library, and it was separate for black and white people.
So, he and his friends went to Lincolnville, where the library for Black people was.
Jackson is now the president of the St. Augustine Historical Society’s Board of Trustees. He is also in charge of what used to be the library for white people.
Jackson said that the staff and executive director of the St. Augustine Historical Society run the day-to-day business, and there is also a Board of Trustees that “keeps the society’s overall vision in mind.”
“Every time a story is told, it is told in a certain way based on who is telling it,” Jackson said.
He showed two statues of men from St. Augustine in the courtyard of the library as an example. They are statues of General Kirby Smith and Dr. Alexander Darnes, both of the Confederacy. Smith, the white man, has been talked about a lot over the years. But not many people know about Darnes, who was a slave of Smith’s father.
Jackson said, “And Dr. Darnes was the first Black doctor in the state of Florida.”
Jackson told First Coast News that he has always been an amateur historian.
“I’ve seen a lot,” his quiet voice said.
He was too young to walk in the Civil Rights marches in St. Augustine in the 1960s, so he kept an eye out or “ran” during the marches or sit-ins. He hid in bushes to see who was getting hurt or arrested, and then he told the organizers of the protest what he saw.
Jackson remembers when Dr. Martin Luther King was arrested in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1964.
He has also acted as a colonial African American soldier at Fort Mose State Park.
“I’ve found out about and been a part of a lot of history. And other people have taken part in, but that part of history is not being told. So that’s one reason I think I might be able to help from where I am.”
He says he wants to “tell the whole story.”
Jackson stopped and gave a nod. “Yeah.”