ST. AUGUSTINE, FL. -- Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today joined U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and U.S. Representative John Mica to kick off the inaugural meeting of the St. Augustine 450th Commemoration Commission. The commission is charged with planning and developing a suitable celebration in 2015 to honor the 450th anniversary of the founding of the oldest continuously occupied European-established city in the continental United States.
“The story of St. Augustine is an integral part of the story of America, and the 450th anniversary of the city's founding is an opportunity to commemorate the diversity of our past and the long journey to become the nation we are today,” Salazar said. “The Department of the Interior will work closely with the commission to ensure an appropriate commemoration that celebrates the city and honors its history.”
“It's been said that history is a guide to our navigation in the future,” said Senator Nelson. “If that's so, then St. Augustine should be our compass. It is a city steeped in history. And this commission is made of up people who, like the city itself, have deep historical roots in our state. I know they'll plan a celebration fitting for a city that has contributed so much to Florida's and the nation's heritage.”
Congress established the commission as part of the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 and Secretary Salazar announced the members of the Commission in April of 2011. The commission will ensure a suitable national observance of St. Augustine's 450th anniversary by complementing the programs and activities of the State of Florida and the City of St. Augustine.
Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded St. Augustine in 1565 under a grant from King Phillip II of Spain. St. Augustine was often a site of conflict as European nations competed with each other for control of the New World, and, at various times, the flags of Spain, England and the United States have flown over the city. Union forces occupied the city in 1862.
In the 1960's, St. Augustine was on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., led efforts to end segregation and secure equal rights for African Americans.
St. Augustine is home to two National Park Service sites, the Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas National Monuments. The Castillo de San Marcos, a castle built by the Spanish in 1672 to protect their interests in La Florida, is located in downtown St. Augustine, Florida.
As charged by Congress, the St. Augustine's Commission's duties are to: