Aimee Johnson is on track to become a nurse, a profession she loves.
But, this 18-year-old senior at Wiregrass Ranch High School also is an award-winning videographer.
Her 10-minute video on the St. Augustine civil rights movement won a first-place regional award in an annual competition that celebrates National History Day.
It is featured at the ACCORD Civil Rights Museum in St. Augustine.
Even though it was “a very prominent movement and had one of the most violent histories,” Johnson said, it also “was a hidden history people didn’t know about.”
She compiled archival photographs and interviewed St. Augustine civil rights activists to tell the story of racial tension and hatred in the mid-1960s.
She started her video journey with a visit to the ACCORD Civil Rights Museum, which holds artifacts from that period, including the fingerprints of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Police arrested the civil rights icon in June 1964 for trespassing when he and others tried to dine at a whites-only restaurant.
It was King’s only arrest in Florida.
Johnson held the document and touched King’s fingerprints.
“It was very eye-opening, and I’m grateful that I got to do something like that,” she said. “It’s become something more to me. I’m very happy about that.”
The museum is at the former office of dentist and civil rights activist Robert B. Hayling, who is considered the “father” of the St. Augustine civil rights movement.
He headed the St. Augustine NAACP Youth Council before joining with King’s Southern Christian Leadership Council.
In addition to her museum visit, Johnson interviewed Janie Price, 98, who first met King at Morehouse College in Atlanta. When King came to St. Augustine in the summer of 1964, he stayed at her house.
Because of the threats from the Klu Klux Klan, King had to frequently move from one house to another.
Price is remembered as the “house mother” of the St. Augustine civil rights movement.
Robert Batie, who grew up in St. Augustine, recounted an attack on his family.
Someone, believed to be a Klan member, hurled a hub cap through a living room window. Later a soda bottle crashed through another window. The shattered glass wounded Batie, who was just 9 at the time.
He later was among the first blacks to integrate schools in St. Augustine.
The video highlights several historical events, including the sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counter by 16 teenagers. Four teenagers later arrested and sent to reform school became known as the St. Augustine Four.
In another confrontation, whites and blacks held a “wade-in” at a local motel pool to the dismay of the Klan. The white motel owner threw acid into the pool.
The demonstrations played a pivotal role in the national movement which led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“I actually was always interested in the civil rights movement especially my being a black woman,” Johnson said. But, Florida often is left out because historians take a more national view of events, she said.
Her interest in history is matched by her passion for creating videos. That seemed a perfect match for her civil rights project.
Still, she wasn’t sure where to start.
However, her mother did. She posted a message on Facebook explaining her daughter’s plan and got a response that led Johnson to Gwendolyn Duncan.
Duncan is a long-time activist who led efforts to found the ACCORD museum, and served as its museum project manager. The name stands for Anniversary to Commemorate the Civil Rights Demonstrations Inc.
Duncan helped introduce Johnson to Price and Batie. She also provided a video clip of former Gov. Charlie Crist issuing a resolution to expunge the records of hundreds of civil rights activists arrested in St. Augustine during the demonstrations.
Johnson felt pressure to create a special video.
The night before turning it in, she felt overwhelmed with schoolwork and worried that the video wouldn’t be good enough.
Her Mom set her straight. Just do your best, she said.
“My Mom is always there to support me,” Johnson said.
Winning regionally against about 300 other entries was her reward.
Now, Johnson is focused on her nursing career. She has been a dual enrollment student since ninth grade when she started in the school’s nursing program.
Johnson is vice president of HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America), and is a member of Best Buddies, SADD, Key Club and Bulls Nation.
She is one of seven children from a family that immigrated from Jamaica. It’s also a family with many doctors.
She jokes that the medical show, “Grey’s Anatomy,” showed her that nursing was “cool.”
“I was so interested in it,” she said. But, she is certain nursing is her calling. “It’s become more to me,” she said. “I was able to sink into it.”
She will begin online classes with the University of Central Florida in June, and hopefully will transition to on-campus life in fall.
Even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, she is steadfast.
“I understand the dangers,” Johnson said. “I fully understand and truly love the nursing field. I love just being able to help other people.”
To view the video, visit YouTube and search The Civil Rights Act: St. Augustine 1964 NHD/Aimee Johnson.
Published June 03, 2020