Remembering A Civil Rights Swim-In: 'It Was A Milestone' | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Remembering A Civil Rights Swim-In: 'It Was A Milestone'

Play associated audio

On June 18, 1964, black and white protesters jumped into the whites-only pool at the Monson Motor Lodge in St. Augustine, Fla. In an attempt to force them out, the owner of the hotel poured acid into the pool.

Martin Luther King Jr. had planned the sit-in during the St. Augustine Movement, a part of the larger civil rights movement. The protest — and the owner's acidic response — is largely forgotten today, but it played a role in the passing of the Civil Rights Act, now celebrating its 50th anniversary.

J.T. Johnson, now 76, and Al Lingo, 78, were two of the protesters in the pool that day. On a visit to StoryCorps in Atlanta, the pair recalled the hotel owner, James Brock, "losing it."

"Everybody was kind of caught off guard," J.T. says.

"The girls, they were most frightened, and we moved to the center of the pool," Al says.

"I tried to calm the gang down. I knew that there was too much water for that acid to do anything," J.T. says. "When they drug us out in bathing suits and they carried us out to the jail, they wouldn't feed me because they said I didn't have on any clothes. I said, 'Well, that's the way you locked me up!'

"But all of the news media were there, because somehow I guess they'd gotten word that something was going to happen at that pool that day. And I think that's when President [Lyndon B.] Johnson got the message."

The following day, the Civil Rights Act was approved, after an 83-day filibuster in the U.S. Senate.

"That had not happened before in this country, that some man is pouring acid on people in the swimming pool," J.T. says. "I'm not so sure the Civil Rights Act would have been passed had [there] not been a St. Augustine. It was a milestone. We was young, and we thought we'd done something — and we had."

J.T. went back to St. Augustine 40 years later, he tells Al. By then, the Monson Motor Lodge had been replaced with a Hilton Hotel.

"I sat and talked with the manager. I said to him that, 'You know, I can't stay in this hotel. You don't have any African-Americans working here,' " J.T. recalls.

"He said, 'Well, I promise you that next time you come down here it'll be different.' He immediately got busy," J.T. continues. "But he was one of the few people in St. Augustine, I think, that did some of the things that we had been talking about."

"So, to go back to St. Augustine, and it's still somewhat the same — now, that does make me feel bad. The lifting is still kind of heavy, but I'll continue to work as hard as I can, as long as I live," J.T. says. "I won't ever stop, and I won't ever give up."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher Morris.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

'Breaking Bad' Fans Get Their Fix In Spanish

Metástasis, the Spanish-language remake of the AMC series, ends this week on UniMás. The show is set in Colombia instead of New Mexico, but the story of a teacher-turned-drug dealer stays the same.
NPR

Edible Packaging? Retailers Not Quite Ready To Ditch The Wrapper

To reduce waste, some enterprising companies are trying to roll out products that make the package part of the snack — edible packaging. But selling it to the retail market is trickier than it seems.
WAMU 88.5

Senator's Legislation Would Strip NFL Of Nonprofit Status

The Redskins' refusal to change its name has prompted the legislation from U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA).
NPR

When The Power's Out, Solar Panels May Not Keep The Lights On

With the price of solar panels falling, more municipalities and homeowners are installing them. But having solar panels doesn't mean you won't lose power in a blackout — at least not yet.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.