By Robert Waldner
Photos by Kate Gardiner
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said very simply but very passionately that “The Arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This profound statement serves as the principle foundation of Compassionate St. Augustine’s “Let Freedom Ring” Chimes Project. Located in Dr. Robert B. Hayling Freedom Park, which was dedicated in 2016, the display is focused on commemorating the historical importance of the park’s namesake as well as the city’s Civil Rights Movement and African-American storylines. The park, once a landfill known as Riberia Pointe, which many developers were looking to turn into a high-end residential neighborhood, memorializes Dr. Hayling’s contributions to St. Augustine’s place in the movement. The recent addition of the Chimes Project public art installation further elevates the importance of those storylines.
The Project, a display of fourteen graduated contrabass pentatonic aluminum chimes fashioned in a semi-circle, is at the southern tip of that ten-plus acre peninsula at the southern end of Lincolnville which visually ties in with the peaceful majesty of the Intracoastal Waterway. With the 312 Bridge in the backdrop of the chimes’ outer arc, a gleaming white marble semi-circular bench called Toward sits opposite the inner arc of the chimes where it creates the outline of an incomplete circle. “From a distance the bench looks smooth and clean,” says Lincolnville artist Joe Segal, who was commissioned to design, build, and install Toward, “…but as you get closer you see that the marble is rough and has an unfinished look. I think this symbolizes that we still have progress to make on the issue of Civil Rights.”
Segal elaborates: “It had to be in sync with the natural setting of Riberia Pointe and it needed to complement the message of the chimes. Splitting the stone and creating the sculpture was tough with such a tight timeline, but it was an honor for me to do it because I have lived in Lincolnville for over thirty years. This is where I became an artist.”
The chimes project is only the latest initiative that CSA has spearheaded in order to inspire and influence compassion in the Ancient City. Caren Goldman, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Compassionate St. Augustine says “This is a way for us to come together in celebration of history and diversity.” City Manager John Regan, who worked as a facilitator for the city on the project believes ”We invest in each other when we invest in projects like this.”
In that spirit, Goldman collaborated with the grassroots organization Keep Riberia Pointe Green and the City of St. Augustine to ensure the environmentally friendly and safe installation of the monument. Todd Grant, Deputy Director of the City’s Public Works Department explains, “We were in charge of installing the concrete slab. We helped with infrastructure and made sure the project was ADA accessible. We had some setbacks, but we looked at them as opportunities.”
Atop the marble slabs of the bench are etched granite tiles designed by youth from the St. Augustine Boys and Girls Club Players Championship Unit, students from The Webster School, and incarcerated boys from St. Johns Youth Academy. The tiles, adorned with interpretive pictures and quotes focused on aspects of Civil Rights and African-American history, top off the rough marble slabs that arch collectively “toward” the freedom chimes (where the work got its name). Former Webster student and the school’s current Community Partnership School Director, Alexius Ferguson was the point of contact for the tiles portion of the project.
“I am a connector,” says Ferguson, “…both in my everyday job and also for this project.” Ferguson, who provided oversight for the students and teachers at The Webster School and Boys & Girls Club says, “I am very proud of how warmly it has been received. This project is a symbol that our community can be a model for stability and compassion that the world has never seen. Hopefully, this is a story that keeps on writing itself.”
With The Chimes Project, dedicated on April 4th, exactly fifty years after Dr. King’s assassination, St. Augustine’s Civil Rights history is starting to establish itself in the narrative of that tumultuous and pivotal period in our nation’s history. In the words of Dr. King, “We have come a long, long way, but we have a long, long way to go.”
And the “continued writing” Ferguson alluded to is already in the works as CSA, The Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center, and Tag! The St. Augustine Children’s Museum are in the planning stage of a curriculum that will be extended to all fourth grade Florida history students. The curriculum would allow school field trip groups to visit the Chimes Project and also lead them through the museum to further learn about St. Augustine’s Civil Rights and African- American History. Gayle Phillips, owner and operator of the LMCC says, “It’s important to get kids involved. It’s special to take something that brought so much pain and make it a positive learning experience for future generations.”