Richard J. Murray High School Students Honored at the Hotel Ponce de Leon Sit-In Commemoration Marker Ceremony at Flagler College

St. Augustine civil rights activists Renee Plummer Beltrame and Cora Tyson in front of the Hotel Ponce de Leon Sit-In commemoration marker at Flagler College
St. Augustine civil rights activists Renee Plummer Beltrame and Cora Tyson in front of the Hotel Ponce de Leon Sit-In commemoration marker at Flagler College.


On March 31st, 1964, 150 students from Richard J. Murray High School in West Augustine walked to the Ponce de Leon Hotel in downtown St. Augustine to do a sit-in at the segregated dining room. Police then escorted the students out through the breezeway, where many of the students were arrested. 

Arrest of Murray High Students at Ponce de Leon Hotel
Arrest of Murray High Students at Ponce de Leon Hotel on March 31st, 1964 - photo courtesy of Associated Press

One of those students, Patricia Roberson, graduated from Flagler College in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in early childhood education. She became an educator and a community leader in St. Johns County, and not only did she become principal of W.D. Hartley Elementary, but after this she became director of personnel for the St. Johns County School District until she retired in 2003.

On March 31st, 2022, Flagler College revealed the Citizenship with Integrity civil rights commemoration marker for the Hotel Ponce de Leon Sit-In in front of a group of Flagler students, employees as well as community members and leaders including current and former Murray Middle School students. The final words on the marker state: "We honor individuals who stand up to injustice everywhere, including our very own Patricia Roberson." 

58 years after the sit-in another one of these Richard J. Murray High School students, Renee Plummer Beltrame, returned to the former Ponce Hotel, which is now part of Flagler College. 

St. Augustine civil rights activists Renee Plummer Beltrame and Cora Tyson in front of the Hotel Ponce de Leon Sit-In commemoration marker at Flagler College
St. Augustine civil rights activists Cora Tyson and Renee Plummer Beltrame in front of the Hotel Ponce de Leon Sit-In commemoration marker at Flagler College 


"It's wonderful," said Plummer Beltrame, when asked about the commemoration marker. "There are a lot of memories," she says about being back at the former Hotel Ponce de Leon. "This is not the room, I know," Beltrame says, looking around the Flagler Room, where the commemoration marker event took place. She explains how she could not stop smiling, when she heard that the marker was finally going to be placed. "I think it is great. It took a long time. It is a big start."  




The Hotel Ponce De Leon Sit-In commemoration marker had been a long time coming. Dr. Michael Butler, Flagler history professor and author said in his remarks that "When the idea of a marker like this was first broached, I was told that it would never happen ... this marker is so outstanding to me, because number one, it is a student-based project. It is student led, it is student initiated." Dr. Butler continued to give some historical context. "There were about 150 participants from Murray High School at the time, and there were 117 arrests on that day." 

Hotel Ponce De Leon Sit-In commemoration marker at Flagler College St. Augustine.
Hotel Ponce De Leon Sit-In commemoration marker at Flagler College 

"It was a little bit surreal, as I was sitting down seeing all of the people come in," says Spencer Hooker, community representative for the Black Student Union at Flagler College. "I was thinking that it was finally happening, 3 years of our hard work finally coming together, it was beautiful to see." Hooker and the Black Student Union had been an instrumental part in getting the marker created. "It was probably one of the biggest moments for me, when I realized that there was someone, who actually participated in the sit-in here to see their hard work come to fruition. And also to see Mrs. Tyson here, a local St. Augustine hero." 


Reveal of the Ponce de Leon sit-in commemorative marker at Flagler College
Flagler Black Student Union community representative Spencer Hooker and current Flagler BSU president Rory Thompson with Flagler alumnae former BSU president Phaedra Dejarnette, Dr. Michael Butler and vice president and chief of human resources and diversity at Flagler College Kelly Toaston. 

"With this civil rights marker we can celebrate acknowledging St. Augustine's and Flagler's civil rights history and the progress Flagler College has begun to make," says former Black Student Union president at Flagler College and current UNF graduate student, Phaedra Dejarnette. "Flagler College has the opportunity to grow, learn and become even more inclusive. Let us celebrate this step, this moment, but also take a moment to reflect on our past and on what we can see in the future for Flagler."


Hotel Ponce De Leon Sit-In commemoration marker at Flagler College
Hotel Ponce de Leon Sit-In commemoration marker at Flagler College outside the breezeway.


The Hotel Ponce de Leon Sit-In commemoration at Flagler College is a great acknowledgement of the civil rights movement in St. Augustine, but it is also an acknowledgement of the student movement in St. Augustine as well as of the historic impact that West Augustine and the residents from St. Augustine's west side has had on the history of St. Augustine. 





 

Comments

.