About the Exhibit
WE COULD NOT BE SILENT Commemorates a Remarkable Act of Solidarity at a Critical Moment in History
What transpired over the course of three days in June of 1964 changed our nation’s history and was a significant factor in the passage of the Civil Rights Act. This was an era when Black citizens and their allies in St. Augustine were striving to desegregate private and public properties – from hotels, to lunch counters, to pools, to public beaches. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. arrived in St. Augustine to work with local movement leaders, the environment was one of incredible hostility and violence.
Recognizing the need to shine a larger spotlight on what was happening in the city, Dr. King sent a letter to Rabbi Israel Dresner, a former freedom rider, calling for his support. Rabbi Dresner, along with 15 other rabbis and a layperson responded by traveling to St. Augustine to stand with the Black community.
Why This Exhibit in the Holocaust Memorial Gallery
While sitting in a jail cell, the rabbis wrote a letter to their communities as a witness to what they were experiencing and the reasons they had come. They expressed how history had informed their decision:
“We came as Jews who remember the millions of faceless people who stood quietly, watching the smoke rise from Hitler’s crematoria. We came because we know that, second only to silence, the greatest danger to man is loss of faith in man’s capacity to act.”
Why We Choose To Tell This Story
Many of the forces during this turbulent time are still with us today. As certain groups have become more active and emboldened in their public displays of hate, it is imperative we recognize the power of community and solidarity and let history remind us of who we can be.
A phrase written by the rabbis almost sixty years ago echoes through the years and speaks to us today:
“Silence has become the unpardonable sin of our time.”