This Day in History

Aug. 27, 1960: Ax Handle Saturday

Time Periods: Cold War: 1945 - 1960
Themes: Civil Rights Movements

Lunch counter sit-in that ended in the violence of Ax Handle Saturday. Credit: Florida Historical Society

On August 27, 1960, over 200 white rioters armed with baseball bats and ax handles chased, beat, and threatened Black residents in Jacksonville, Florida.

The Florida Historical Society describes the riot:

The violent attack was in response to peaceful lunch counter demonstrations organized by the Jacksonville Youth Council of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The attack began with white people spitting on the protestors and yelling racial slurs at them. When the young demonstrators held their resolve, they were beaten with wooden handles that had not yet had metal ax heads attached.

While the violence was first aimed at the lunch counter demonstrators, it quickly escalated to include any African American in sight of the white mob. Police stood idly by watching the beatings until members of a Black street gang called “The Boomerangs” attempted to protect those being attacked. At that point, police night sticks joined the baseball bats and ax handles.

Bloodied and battered victims of the vicious beatings fled to a nearby church where they sought refuge and comfort from prayer and song. Eventually the white mob dispersed.

Read more about the riot and about how this history — censored in Jacksonville for years — is being remembered in the 21st century at Read about the U.S. history teacher, Rutledge Henry Pearson, who inspired his students to get involved with the NAACP Youth Council.

Watch: Ax Handle Saturday, 50 Years Later

Written and produced by Bill Retherford. Jacksonville Historical Society, 2010.