Monson Motor Lodge Civil Rights Protest, June 1964
At this location on June 11, 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested with other civil rights activists during a protest of segregation at the Monson Motor Lodge which stood at this location from 1961 until its demolition in 2003. On June 18, a second protest at the hotel included the arrest of numerous white rabbis who had traveled at King's urging to support the citywide protests. The rabbi and others were at the hotel to support the plans of seven protesters who had swimwear under their clothing. As the rabbis were being arrested for trespassing on the 18th, these five participated in a "swim-in" protest by jumping in the hotel pool in violation of the hotel's white-only policy. As the rabbis and supporters prayed, the owner of the hotel accused the protesters of trespassing on private property. The local police complied with the owner's demands and arrested the protesters. At that moment, the seven swimmers shed their exterior clothing and made their way to the hotel pool. In a fit of rage, the owner dumped acid into the pool. While there was little chance of the acid causing physical harm owing to the volume of water, newsreel footage and a photo of the owner's action led many Americans to turn against the defenders of segregation. The protesters were arrested and placed in jail where they were poorly treated by the city's all-white police force. The following day, the Senate broke an 83-day filibuster and approved the Civil Rights Act.
Backstory and Context
The following day, about fifty participants marched to the Monson Motor Lodge to participate in a protest of the white-only establishment. The governor had sent state highway patrolmen to the area, and while police had attacked civil rights protesters in the past, by 1964 the most of the city police worked to protect the protesters from the violence threatened by mobs of white onlookers. When King and others attempted to enter the hotel restaurant, owner James Brock physically blocked the door to the establishment. The owner threatened to have King arrested as he and others kneeled on the steps of the hotel to pray. After the owner complained to the police, each of the participants, including several rabbis and Martin Luther King Jr., were arrested near the entrance of the hotel. These steps were preserved when the hotel was demolished, and they can be seen near the entrance to the Hilton.
Two white hotel guests who were part of the movement and had registered at the hotel the previous day invited five of the African Americans protesters to join them in the pool. In response, the hotel owner poured muriatic acid into the hotel pool. A white off-duty police officer jumped into the pool and attacked one of the white participants. Despite this act of violence against guests of the hotel and their guests, the police responded by beating several of the protesters with their batons. They also arrested each of the protesters. Racial expletives were directed at the protesters with whites calling on the police to continue hitting the protesters while they were being taken to the police cars outside of the hotel. As can be seen in the video, white onlookers punched several of the participants of the swim in as the police marched them through the hotel patio.
The Monson Motor Lodge opened in 1961 and was demolished in 2003 and replaced by the Hilton St Augustine Historic Bayfront. Visitors can see a plaque and the original steps to the Monson Motor Lodge where King was arrested.
Warren, Dan R.. If It Takes All Summer: Martin Luther King, the KKK, and States' Rights in St. Augustine, 1964. University Alabama Press, 2008.