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Jax Daily Record Monday, Aug. 23, 201012:00 PM EST

50 years ago this week

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Racial unrest leads to violence, judge rejects mandatory DWI sentencing

Have you ever wondered what life was like in Jacksonville half a century ago? It may have been a different era of history, culture and politics but there are often parallels between the kind of stories that made headlines then and today. As interesting as the differences may be, so are the similarities. These are some of the top stories from this week in 1960. The items were compiled from the Jacksonville Public Library’s periodical archives by Staff Writer Max Marbut.

• Police put a tight lid on security all over the city following clashes between white persons and African-Americans following attempts by African-Americans to integrate white-only lunch counters in stores. It was the culmination of a week of sit-in demonstrations and acts of violence and civil disobedience.

The trouble began about noon when groups of white persons and African-Americans lined Hogan Street and began taunting each other. The situation exploded when the groups began attacking each other near Hemming Park and then moved the conflict to nearby streets.

At one point, Police Inspector W.L. Bates called the situation “entirely out of hand.”

In one outbreak of violence, precipitated by bottle-throwing on Ashley Street, dozens of police cars swooped into the area in an effort to clear streets and sidewalks. While officers were ordering African-Americans inside buildings, they were pelted with bottles and debris from windows. The officers were also targets of small caliber bullets, but the shooting stopped when police threatened to use shotguns and tear gas.

Thirty-three African-Americans and nine white persons were arrested on charges ranging from fighting to inciting to riot. During the day, there were reports of at least 100 shootings, stabbings and acts of vandalism.

In Tallahassee, Gov. LeRoy Collins put Florida’s National Guard on alert for possible duty if the racial disorder continued.

Mayor Haydon Burns called an emergency meeting of top police officials to map out a plan to keep the volatile situation under control. Burns appealed to the public to maintain orderly and peaceful conduct and called on citizens and visitors alike to adhere to the laws.

“If there are any further acts of violence, they will meet with swift and determined police action,” said Burns. “All troublemakers, irrespective of race, will be jailed.”

Burns also issued an order that “any group of more than four persons of any race loitering in the city and whose presence is deemed as not in the interest of peace in the community shall be construed as being an unlawful gathering and thus subject to immediate arrest.”

The day would later become known as “Ax Handle Saturday.”

• Municipal Judge John Santora voiced strong opposition to mandatory jail terms for all persons convicted of driving while intoxicated.

“We’ve had schoolteachers and ministers down there in court and I’m not disposed to put them in jail,” Santora said to the City Council’s committee on rules and laws.

He was invited to give his views at a meeting of the committee, which was considering two proposed ordinances providing stiffer penalties for “drunk drivers.”

Existing City law allowed the judge to give a first offender in a DWI case a fine of $100-$150 or a jail term of 10-30 days, or both. The second offense called for a fine of $150-$250 or a jail term of 30-60 days, or both. On the third and subsequent offenses, a jail term of 60-90 days was mandatory.

One of the new bills would require a prison term of 30-60 days on the first conviction, not less than 60 days on the second conviction and 90 days on the third and subsequent convictions.

Council President Ralph Walter, who chaired the committee and the City Pardon Board, told Santora that drunk driving had become “such an important factor in law enforcement” that the board thought it might be wise to “tighten up on it.” He said the law in Jacksonville required a jail term on the first conviction from 1927-1942.

Santora said he was opposed “without reservation” to a mandatory jail term for a first offender. He said it would be possible under such a law for a reputable citizen, such as an elder in a church with several children, to be jailed for having only a couple of drinks on his way home some night.

“You can fail the drinkometer test after having only two drinks. It depends on the individual,” said Santora. He also said a test was conducted in which a man failed the test after drinking “only one bottle of beer and one glass of wine.”

The committee deferred action on the legislation pending further study.

• “The Florida Crown” was the name selected for the northeast section of the state in a contest sponsored by the Northeast Florida Council of Chambers of Commerce.

Judges considered names submitted by more than 350 entrants from the 15 counties represented in the council. The winners were two Jacksonville men, Kenneth Smith of 4090 Ponce de Leon Ave. and William Heard of 3225 Herschel St., who both submitted the same name. The men would divide $75 in U.S. Savings Bonds as their prize.

The judges said the name was chosen because it was “distinctive and all-inclusive.” They also said it made clear the location of the area in relation to the rest of the state, that it suggested solidity, influence and the area’s rich historical background and did not single out one industry or feature over any of the other advantages of the area.

• City police and FBI agents captured a gunman who was at the top of the Police Department’s “Most Wanted” list.

James Allen, 26, walked into a trap about 8 p.m. Sunday night and was captured at gunpoint in a corn patch following a chase between houses and over fences near Fourth and Stafford streets.

There was a federal fugitive warrant for Allen, who was wanted for four robberies in Jacksonville, at least two in Duval County, three in Savannah and at least one in Waycross, according to Det. Sgt. Fred Gray, who gave this account of the apprehension:

Patrolmen N.H. Newsom and N. Young were riding with two FBI agents toward Fourth and Stafford streets while Gray and two other agents circled the area on a tip that Allen was in town.

Newsom, Young and the FBI agents spotted Allen walking along the street. When they stopped the car, the suspect dashed between a row of houses, scaled a fence and disappeared. While searching the area, they found Allen flattened out between rows of corn. He surrendered without a struggle.

Gray said Allen admitted committing several of the robberies, and in one using a stolen water pistol as a weapon.

Allen told investigators he was on the way to see his girlfriend when he walked into the trap and that he had returned to Jacksonville from Georgia just a few hours before his arrest.

• The Duval County Commission refused to reconsider action it had taken two weeks prior to extend bar hours in the county by one hour until 1 a.m.

A large delegation of citizens argued the question for more than two hours with most of the arguments being for reconsideration.

A motion to reconsider by Commissioner Joe Hammond, who called the previous action “rotten,” failed to get a second. However, Commissioner Joe Burnett, who introduced the original resolutions, asked that the rules for a second be waived. That put Hammond’s motion to a roll call vote which resulted in a 4-1 tally against reconsideration.

Burnett said he favored the later closing hour because he believed that in view of the extension of hours within the city limits that was enacted in January, it was only fair to give establishments in the county an equal chance at the late-hour business.

• If Sgt. W.G. Mintz of the City Missing Persons Bureau had known ahead of time the reason, he probably would have refused a request from Georgia to locate a local man.

Mintz got a letter from a resident of Sylvania, Ga., asking that a man be located here on a very urgent matter. Mintz spent three days tracking the man and called him on the phone.

“Oh yes,” the man told the investigator. “I know what he wants. He sells pecans to me each year and wants to know if I want any.”

• Auditions for scholarships to Jacksonville University College of Music would be conducted Sept. 2, according to Gerson Yessin, director of the school. Applications would be accepted at the college’s business office at 2004 Herschel St.

The music college would begin its 38th year with registration Sunday with instruction offered at JU and at the Herschel Street address.

Yessin said Elizabeth Cordle Young, former head of instrumental music at Anderson (S.C.) College, was the most recent addition to the staff and would teach piano.

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