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Civil rights era roars back at Capitol

A scene of history, high drama and emotion played out Thursday morning as Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet passed a resolution asking that the state expunge all the arrest records of people who were charged and in some cases beaten for trying to integrate the beach at St. Augustine in 1963 and 1964.

The marchers, both black and white, some of them teenagers at the time, were active in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. They included Stetson Kennedy, 95, a journalist from the era; Dr. Robert Hayling, a retired dentist from Fort Lauderdale, and Purcell Conway, who was 15 when he was beaten in America's oldest city and went on to a long career as a New York City police officer.

Crist read the resolution, which he proposed at the urging of Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville. The resolution recommends that "appropriate governmental entities" expunge all of the activists' arrest records "in the most expedient and efficient means available." The records will remain in the state archives as "testament to their courage, ideals and bravery."

The Cabinet room was packed with more than 250 people and the crowd stood and gave the two dozen activists and their families two loud standing ovations.

- Steve Bousquet, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau