Site of civil rights sit-in still stirs emotion
A Wells Fargo bank in St. Augustine, Florida, is keeping alive an often-overlooked connection to one of the most important civil rights laws in U.S. history.
A banking store in America’s oldest city retells an important chapter in African Americans’ struggle for civil rights. The Wells Fargo bank at 33 King St. in St. Augustine, Florida, was once part of a Woolworth store where, in 1963, police arrested Delores Miller Parks; her brother, John; and 14 other teenagers after they sought service at the lunch counter. The site is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Delores, who went on to work at Wells Fargo in Philadelphia (and is now retired), says, “To sit here today and to see the counter and to see my brother John . . . it puts a smile on my face, because we did effect a change.” Watch her powerful story in this video.
40th ACCORD Inc., a local civil rights group, features the banking store on its Freedom Trail of sites preserving St. Augustine’s civil rights history. The location is also a stop on St. Augustine walking tours and its trolley tours.
Along with the original Woolworth’s front door and location, the bank’s two most-visible links to the city’s civil rights history are the original lunch counter and a large two-sided mural.
The St. Augustine store’s mural — part of Wells Fargo’s community mural program — is among several civil rights murals Wells Fargo has installed at banking stores in Birmingham and Montgomery (Alabama), Atlanta, and Memphis.
The St. Augustine mural includes images from the lunch counter sit-in and of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. from protests he led locally. St. Augustine is the only city in Florida where he was arrested.
At its installation in May 2013, the 16-foot by 8.5-foot mural was the 177th in Florida and 1,835th overall in Wells Fargo’s community mural program.
The lunch counter display was added courtesy of Joe Boles, a local attorney, Wells Fargo customer, and former St. Augustine mayor. In 2010, he bought a portion of the original lunch counter so it could be preserved and included in the city’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its 450th anniversary as America’s oldest city in 2015.
“Once the celebrations were over, a friend of mine at Wells Fargo said, ‘Why not put the lunch counter in our lobby, since that’s where the sit-in and demonstrations took place?’ He was so right. That’s where it belongs.”
Joe adds, “I think the fact that Wells Fargo takes the time to create imagery that ties into the local community and preserves such an important legacy says a lot about the company’s commitment to serve the local community.”
Delores moved to Philadelphia in the 1960s; John did as well but soon returned to Florida, where he has lived ever since.
Delores started working for a Wells Fargo predecessor bank in 1986, and she finished her career with Wells Fargo Advisors at the Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, store. She retired from full-time work in 2011 but stayed on part time until April 2013.
“When I heard Wells Fargo was creating the mural, I remembered trying to get a job at another bank in the 1960s and being told ‘No way.’ The fact that the mural is there today for all to see says, ‘We support change. We are in favor of change.’ ”
“It puts a smile on my face, because we did effect a change.”
Delores, who figures she was arrested at least four times as a teenager for participation in civil rights activities, has long been a champion of diversity in banking. In 1993, a company newsletter featured her essay, “What does diversity look like in your department?” When ACCORD honored her as a civil rights hero in 2012, the Jenkintown store took out a full-page ad celebrating her accomplishments.
“Those were such important times in our nation’s history,” she says, “and I’m just glad Wells Fargo, ACCORD, and others are keeping the legacy alive.”
Teller Demetria Edwards, who has worked for Wells Fargo and its predecessor banks in St. Augustine for nearly 30 years, feels the same way. Her sister-in-law, Audrey Nell Edwards, was one of those arrested with Delores in the sit-in.
“It’s great that the bank I work for is doing its part to make sure that my own family’s legacy and those of so many others aren’t forgotten,” she says.