How a mild-mannered historian forced the Oldest City to grapple with a history it would sooner forget
It’s a demeanor more neighborhood hardware salesman than revolutionary, a camouflage that has served him well. Though he’s been at the center of some of the most pitched preservation battles in city history, it’s difficult to find anyone who dislikes Nolan or even heartily disagrees with him. Whether it’s his calm delivery, his residual New England accent or the chuckle that often seems to follow his fiercest indictments, Nolan is as reasonable a radical as one is likely to meet.
Still, he’s a radical. Largely self-taught (he never finished college) he’s become the city’s unofficial historian through sheer force of will. His pet issues — preservation and Civil Rights history — are often in conflict with St. Augustine’s official line. He disparages the city’s penchant for marketing faux Colonial history, for preferring themepark appeal to sometimes uncomfortable realities. He’s butted heads with all manner of city officials and business types, fighting their demolition plans and calling attention to their foolishness. And he’s effected a real change in the way both black and white residents speak and think about city history. It’s largely because of Nolan, for example, that the covered portion of the Plaza de la Constitucion is now universally recognized as a former Slave Market. In the late ’80s, he learned that human chattel was bought and sold there, a fact the city was reluctant to acknowledge. (A historic marker located there calls it the “birthplace of weights and measures,” but makes no mention of slaves.) Nolan, however, dusted off the fact and refused to let die. It is now widely known and accepted as true.
“When I came here [in 1977], the concept of history in St. Augustine was that people dressed up in funny costumes on St. George Street in fake buildings, where they sold T-shirts and rubber alligators,” he jokes. There are still funny costumes and rubber alligators, but today they’re tempered by Nolan’s unforgiving eye and unimpeachable memory. He’s succeeded in holding the city and its residents accountable to history — and making sure they don’t forget it.
comments powered by Disqus
- Earth Is In The Early Days Of A New Mass-Extinction Event, Researchers Warn
- Without World War I, what would literature look like today?
- The Secret to Early Jewish Success: Literacy
- Egypt’s Nasser is blamed for current problems by the regime
- ‘Google must not be left to censor history’ – Wikipedia founder
- Yale's Jay Winter sums up what we should remember about WW I
- Plagiarism scandals galore … but no consequences?
- Historian who calls bull&%$@ on July 4th parade causes controversy
- This is what motivated history students in high school and middle school can do!