Nolan, an author, historian, and civil right activist helped to change that.
“I dropped out of school in the 1960s to work in the civil rights movement,” Nolan said.
In 1963, there was a movement taking place, one Nolan couldn’t ignore.
“That was the most meaningful year of my entire life, I’m sure,” Nolan said.
It was the year of the demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama. Four young girls were killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and Medgar Evers was assassinated in his driveway. Also in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his I Have a Dream speech in Washington D.C. Then on Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
“This was what was happening in America,” Nolan said. “And I was, you know, growing up and you had to decide which side are you on. And to me, there was no question it was going to be that side.”
He’s held on to old articles and memorabilia over the years, detailing his journey, choosing at times the unpopular path. From Virginia to the South Carolina Sea Islands, Atlanta to St. Augustine, Florida living among history.
“It’s almost like heaven except there’s also hell attached to it,” Nolan said. “But, you’re right. I mean, for me, as a historian the greatest pleasure is walking down the street and walking past people who made history.”
Nolan arrived in the Ancient City in the 1970s and was among a group created to survey the city’s old buildings.
“I walked up and down every street of St. Augustine for two years, I walked through the soles of many pairs of shoes,” Nolan said.
His worn-out soles led him through the city’s historically Black neighborhood of Lincolnville.
“St. Augustine had been this incredibly important place in the civil rights movement, it was the place between Birmingham and Selma,” Nolan said. “It was the place that gave rise to one of the two great legislative accomplishments of the movement, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And yet, when I came here, it was never talked about, it had been completely swept under the rug.”Nolan picked up that rug, dusted it off and put just about everything he could find underneath on display. These included things such as a permanently marked Freedom Trail of historic sites of the Civil Rights Movement, trolley tours sharing the city’s Black history, and Florida’s first civil rights museum.
A founder of ACCORD, recognizing St. Augustine’s role in the Civil Rights Movement, Nolan still lights up while sharing the past.
“St. Augustine is really a treasure but we’ve got to guard it constantly,” Nolan said.