Ax Handle Saturday

Remembering a day in American History: August 27, 1960

An Ax Handle is also called a haft. It has five parts, the Eye, the Shoulder, the Belly, the Throat, and the Knob.

ALL we wanted was to be served lunch. At the Whites-only lunch counter inside an F.W. Woolworth five-and-dime store. Jacksonville, Florida. An ax handle’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean. Where white beachgoers baked themselves dark in the August 27, 1960 Sun. Just another Saturday. Shoppers shop up and down Main Street. White people here. Black people there. Everyone knows their lane. No one crosses.

The handle is strongest when split from a stave, simply a narrow length of raw wood, rather than cut out of a board.

OUTSIDE the Woolworth windows. Men and boys build their mob like they make their ax handles. Strong from raw wood. Their ax handles swinging. Pumping them. Up and down. Like the kid. The one with the bad case of pimples who eyed me first. Couldn’t be more than, what. 15. 16. Pumping the air. I see him. We all see them.

The ax handle’s diameter. Should feel comfortable in your hand. With full control of your aim. As it comes up down and around.

THE white server with pink cat eyeglasses. Smacking gum. Square pink kerchief pinned above her breast with a nameplate. Her name is Sue. Loudly announcing. Colored people are not served at the Whites-only lunch counter. The beefy white manager with the white shirt, skinny black tie, white socks, black shoes, black pants. Get the hell to the back where you belong. His fat fingers jabbing at the Colored-only lunch counter. Or maybe, you belong out thereJabbing to the growing white mob outside.

Hickory is your wood. Tougher than nails, versatile, strong, and gives and takes the abuse.

TWO HUNDRED white rioters armed with baseball bats and ax handles. Threatened, chased, and beat us. That Saturday on an August day. The one with the bad case of pimples was the first one S M A C K. C R A C K. B O O M. D O O M. Swung that ax handle like it was his favorite baseball bat. Laughing. His pimples were about to explode on his red-faced head with the blond crew cut. His puckered mouth spilling spit down his red neck with words that pierced our souls as he S M A C K E D my back with an ax handle often called a haft. C R A C K E D my skull with an ax handle with five parts, the Eye, the Shoulder, the Belly, the Throat, and the Knob. B O O M E D down on my body with an ax handle made of an extremely durable Hickory wood. D O O M E D me to a wheelchair for life with an ax handle that’s tougher than nails, versatile, strong, gives, and takes the abuse. All the while feeling comfortable in his hands.

To find out more about Ax Handle Saturday, visit

Author: Antonio Pedro Ruiz

Antonio Ruiz is an ex-junkie-alcoholic, former seminarian, one-time radio host-producer, past community organizer, continuing to be a media advocate, retired television reporter, ex-commission executive director, once a street vendor of jewelry and gloves, waitron (waiter to you), a former bartender who drank too much on the job, an ex-motorcycle courier who learned to ride a bike just for the job, ex-airport shuttle driver, former Entertainment news director-producer, the best time of my life, one-time live TV events red carpet producer-executive producer, ex-small business consultant, ex-youth media and journalism mentor, and now a college student who also has been married three times (thirds the charm), and just couldn't help living with two other women because well, that's part of my story.

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