Formerly Florida Avenue, A. Philip Randolph Boulevard (renamed in 1995) is the Eastside’s historic commercial corridor. During the 1960s, two major events negatively impacted businesses along the roadway: Hurrican Dora, in 1964, and the Race Riot of November 1969. Hurricane Dora was a Category 2 hurricane with 110 mile per hour winds that evenutally caused 1.5 billion dollars worth of damage to the City. A. Philip Randolph Boulevard suffered damage to buildings, as well as looting of businesses.
The Race Riot of 1969 was sparked by a shooting of an African-American man, Buck Riley by a white truck driver on A. Philip Randolph Boulevard. Buck Riley intended to rob the delivery truck driver when the driver was handed a gun by the storeowner and began shooting. The thief ran into a group of school children and the truck driver shot into the crowd. This angered many of the residents and began the riots that eventually led to the closing of A. Philip Randolph by Mayor Hans Tanzler and the creation of a 100-member Task Force on Civil Disorder.
Source: East Jax NAP.PDF
Everything changed Oct. 31, 1969.
Racial tension was building and something was bound to set it off. Turns out it was a white cigarette salesman who said he was told a black man was pilfering his truck.
The salesman ran outside and fired two shots, hitting the black man once in the leg, according to news accounts at the time.
The neighborhood, and people from across the city, fought back. They flipped the salesman’s truck, threw rocks through windows and set buildings ablaze.
And it wasn’t just white business owners that were targeted. Black owners suffered damage, too.
Johns Furniture Store burned to the ground. Looters smashed the windows of Bill’s Clothing and stole from the store. Same for Jax Liquors and a handful of other businesses.
If not for heavy rains, more damage would have been done, fire officials said at the time.
“After you destroyed their business, you had nowhere to go,” said Vernon McLendon, 57, who grew up visiting family off the Avenue .
Charges were eventually dropped against the salesman and the accused thief, but the damage was done.
“It broke Florida Avenue down,” said James Palamore, 57, just after ordering up a fish sandwich on a recent day at the Avenue Grocery.
Eventually, businesses rebuilt – just not on the Avenue .
Source: Florida Times-Union 9/6/09 (‘The Avenue ‘ RACE RIOTS IN 1969 BEGAN UNRAVELING A VIBRANT CORRIDOR THAT HAD IT ALL)