The events of June 18th, 1964, were a pivotal but little-remembered day in American history, particularly in the civil rights struggle.
A white hotel manager was photographed pouring acid into a pool where white and black protestors had joined forces to protest segregation on this day.
This event at the pool in St. Augustine, Florida, along with other protests and rallies are known as the St. Augustine Movement in the summer of 1964, was so powerful that it changed the course of history, bringing more resolute action to the condition of black people in the United States.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was jailed for trespassing at the Monson Motor Lodge after being asked to leave its segregated restaurant on June 11, 1964, a week before the event. King used the “confrontation as a chance to spotlight both the nonviolent technique utilized by civil rights campaigners and the severe discrimination against black people that existed across the city,” according to historians.
The video below shows King’s protest in its entirety.
The arrest of Martin Luther King, Jr., during his lone visit to Florida, sparked a series of protests and confrontations between activists, police, and segregationists, including a ‘swim-in’ demonstration. The ‘swim-in’ was planned by King and two associates at the same lodge that had refused to serve him at its restaurant.
White activists paid for motel rooms and encouraged black individuals to participate in the “whites only” pool as their guests. Jimmy Brock, the motel manager, was apparently enraged by King’s earlier protest and now the ‘swim-in,’ so he dumped a bottle of muriatic acid, an undiluted hydrochloric acid, into the pool in the hopes that the swimmers would be afraid and leave.
As he dumped the acid, Brock reportedly yelled, “I’m cleaning [the] pool!” This was caught on camera by journalists and photographers who had heard about the demonstration and were present.
J.T. Johnson and Al Lingo, two of the “swim-in” demonstrators, were interviewed by NPR when they were 76 and 78 years old, respectively. Brock, the hotel manager, had ‘lost it,’ according to the two.
“Everyone was caught off surprise,” J.T. explained.
“The girls were terrified, so we relocated to the middle of the pool,” Al explained.
“I attempted to de-escalate the situation with the group. J.T. stated, “I knew there was too much water for that acid to do anything.”
Historians claim that one swimmer, knowing that the acid-to-pool-water ratio was too low to pose a concern, drank some of the pool water to assuage the fears of the other swimmers. Despite their fears, some of them continued with their demonstration. In fact, a cop had to intervene to arrest the demonstrators.
“They wouldn’t feed me since they stated I didn’t have any clothes on when they [dragged] us out in swimming suits and brought us off to the jail.” “‘Well, that’s how you locked me up!’ I said,” J.T. explained.
The impacts of the swim-in
“The fallout of Dr. King’s arrest and the swim-in demonstration was both rapid and overwhelming,” historians write. The public outcry for action grew stronger after politicians and public officials saw photographs from the “swim-in” and other protest activities in the St. Augustine Movement, and officials could no longer assume ignorance.
After an 83-day filibuster in the United States Senate, the Civil Rights Act was passed the next day.
“Some man dumping acid on people in the swimming pool had never happened before in our country,” J.T. stated. “I’m not convinced the Civil Rights Act would have been passed if St. Augustine hadn’t existed.” It was a watershed moment. We were young and thought we’d accomplished something, which we had.”
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 1, 1964, essentially made “discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” illegal.
The “swim-in” and accompanying images became a display of different race activists’ humanity as well as the intense racial hatred of those who attempted to disrupt it.