The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Ax Handle Saturday:
Young Blacks Helping Integrate the South

Sep 4, 2023

On August 27, 1960, about 100 young people from the NAACP Youth Council planned a sit-in at a whites-only lunch counter in downtown Jacksonville, Florida.

This sit-in followed several others that August at downtown businesses like Woolworth’s, led by the council president, 16-year-old Rodney Hurst. The young people chose a non-violent, passive resistance approach to their sit-ins. They had already been met with racial taunts and slurs from white people threatening them; they had pins and sharp objects stuck in their arms, had endured kicks to other body parts. Fortunately, they had black supporters who did not agree with non-violence, like a young man later quoted as saying, "If a cracker hits me, I’m going to try and kill him."

From the Youth Council there was Isaac Carnes, an 18-year-old student from Tuskegee Institute, who would later say, “We were stupidly unafraid." The vice president of the Youth Council, Alton Yates, recalled about that Saturday at the end of August, "Men started beating us as we tried to get seated [at a Woolworth’s]."

The Boomerangs, as the young men from the projects nearby were called, were young men not armed, not known to sell drugs, but they were known to fight. Some called them a gang. The Boomerangs had already escorted someone supporting one of these sit-ins out of danger and faced off another white crowd.

On that final Saturday in August, the plan was for a non-violent protest by sitting in at another lunch counter. The young people did not know that a group of white men from the KKK, although not wearing sheets, were preparing to attack them. The local sheriff’s office and police department for Jacksonville had been “given” a report by the FBI. The FBI clearly supported the Klan action and the police inaction, although the white informant said he did not. This white mob armed themselves with clubs and ax handles, bought from a local Sears. The police were nowhere to be found when the mob began threatening and then beating the young people from the NAACP.

Hurst himself only escaped a severe beating by running in another direction, being picked up by a black woman who drove him to safety, and later identified herself as a member of the NAACP.

Black youngsters and oldsters, even women with children, were threatened by the ax-handle and club-wielding white cowards. Again, some young men associated with the Boomerangs showed up at the battle and backed off some of the white attackers. When the police finally showed up, they didn’t stop the whites. Instead, they arrested black people in the area.

Young Carnes swore he’d never return to Jacksonville, because what was later called Ax Handle Saturday "exposed racism like it should have been exposed a long time ago."