#10 – Motel manager pouring acid in the water when black people swam in his pool, 1964
This famous photograph by Horace Cort shows a group of white and black integrationists in the former Monson Motor Lodge swimming pool on June 18, 1964. The photo was connected to the St. Augustine Movement, named for the town in Florida where it took place. Lots of peaceful protests and demonstrations were responded to with violence, which lead to more and more complicated protests.
On June 11, 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr was arrested for trespassing at the Monson Motor Lodge after being asked to leave from its segregated restaurant. This (and other things) helped spur on a group of protesters, black and white, to jump into the pool as a strategically planned event to end segregation at motel pools. The pool at this motel was designated “white only”. Whites who paid for motel rooms invited blacks to join them in the motel pool as their guests.
This swim-in was planned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and two associates. The motel manager, Jimmy Brock, in an effort to break up the party, poured a bottle of muriatic acid into the pool, hoping the swimmers would become scared and leave. One swimmer, who knew that the ratio of acid to pool water was so great that the acid was no longer a threat, drank some of the pool water to calm the other swimmers’ fears.
Muriatic acid is undiluted hydrochloric acid and is used in the cleaning of masonry surfaces such as pools. But what people heard was the word “acid”. It did not scare the swimmers, though it seems like it was effective in making the protesters at least nervous — the amount of acid to the amount of water being so small it was mostly safe—and so a cop jumped in to arrest people.
Many people from that time remember Brock as more the victim in the incident. One moment of temper led to an unwanted legacy. “Jimmy kind of caught the brunt of it. He was a nice guy”. said Eddy Mussallem, a fellow hotelier and longtime friend. “They had to pick a motel, so they picked Jimmy’s motel. I always told him he did a foolish thing”. Brock found himself pressured by civil rights groups and militant whites fighting integration. On 2007, aged 85, Jimmy Brock died at his St. Augustine home.
The motel and pool were demolished in March 2003, despite five years of protests, thus eliminating one of the nation’s important landmarks of the Civil Rights Movement. A Hilton Hotel was built on the site.