|St. Augustine and Civil Rights
The Picture Seen Round the World
Desegrating a Swiming Pool
|June 18, 1964 James Brock, Manager
of the Monson Motor Lodge
(landmark now destroyed) pouring in
acid on demonstrators attempting to
desegrate the pool.
Rev. Ralph Abernathy from And the Walls Came Tumbling Down:
....Hosea Williams hit on the perfect plan, one that would help us beat the heat and challenge segregation at
the same time: We would integrate the motel swimming pools.
"But how will we do that?" I asked. " As soon as we walk down the street with our bathing suits on, the
police will surround us and keep us from getting near a pool."
"It's easy," said Hosea. "I've already got it worked out. A couple of our white friends will register at the
Monson Motor Lodge. Then, we'll go by their rooms, one or two at a time. We'll change into bathing suits
there and then step out the door and walk over to the pool. It's just a few steps. Before they know we're
there, we'll be paddling around the pool."
It sounded like a good plan, so we agreet to try it. We slipped unnoticed into the motel and changed into our
suits. Then we walked toward the pool, where about ten white people were already swimming. One of them
saw us, then several more. They stared at us with uncomprehending eyes, telling themselves that we weren't
going to do what it appeared we would do. Then, all at once, we plunged into the pool with them. Instantly
they weren't sure whether they got out because they didn't want to share the pool with us or because they
knew that the fireworks were about to begin.
Sure enough, in less than a minute the manager came rushings out of the lobby and over to the poolside,
waving his hand frantically.
"You can't do that," he screamed. "Get out! Get out or I'll call the police."
We laughed and waved at him, and he wheeled around and charged back inside. H came charging back out a
minute later with a five gallon can and held it poised over the water.
"OK," he said. "This is acid. Acid! If you don't get out I'll pour it in the water."
I turned to Hosea at that point and asked him if he thought the man really had acid in the can.
"Probably," he said.
After warning us one more time, the manager turned up the can and some sort of red liquid spilled into the
water and made a dark stain that began to spread. For a minute or so we were uneasy, but the stain
disappeared before it spread to where we were standing in deep water.
The manager knew at the same time we did that our skins weren't going to burn off our bodies, so he cursed
and ran back into the building. Five minutes later we heard the distant wail of a siren that grew louder and
louder. At least two squad cars arrived and several policemen came rushing into the courtyard, as if they had
been called to quell a riot.
"OK," one of them yelled. "You niggers are under arrest."
"Fine," we said, "come in and put the cuffs on us."
"Come out of the water right now," the ranking officer barked and come to the edge, trying to reach out to
grab an arm. Instinctively we all swam to the middle and began waving. The water was lukewarm in the
burning Florida sun, but it was still soothing; so we saw no reason to hurry out of the pool and be hauled off
to a hot jail. Besides, we were enjoying the frustration of the police, who were trying to arrest us without
losing their dignity or getting wet.
They stood on the side, glaring at us and occasionally whispering to one another, white we floated on our
backs or paddled around in small circles. One account has a policeman finally wading into the pool to make
the collar, but I don't remember it that way. As I recall, we finally got tired of the game; and worrying about
excessive exposure to the sun, we swam to the side, climbed out, and submitted to arrest.