Paying the Price for Equal Rights in America’s Oldest City
St. Augustine, Florida, drew national and international media attention in the spring of 1964 when civil rights activists were arrested and violently assaulted as they protested segregation laws. The proposed Civil Rights Act, a measure set to end segregation of public facilities and ban employment discrimination, had yet to be passed and was strongly opposed by Southern Congress members. Their opposition triggered the actions in St. Augustine, which had a direct impact on ending the Senate filibuster, allowing the final vote and passage of the historic legislation.
Dr. Robert Hayling, a local dentist and member of the NAACP, enlisted the help of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to bring the Civil Rights Movement to St. Augustine after several protests there had resulted in violent retaliations. National headlines followed when supporters from New England traveled south to participate in these protests and the 72-year-old mother of the governor of Massachusetts, with others, was arrested and jailed for refusing to leave a sit-in at the Ponce de Leon Restaurant.
Protests and nightly marches in St. Augustine came to a climax on June 18, 1964, when activists jumped into the whites-only swimming pool at the Monson Motor Lodge in response to Dr. King’s arrest the week prior when he attempted to enter the motel’s restaurant. Photojournalists then captured images of the motel owner pouring muriatic acid into the water, images that were broadcast all over the world. The Senate passed the Civil Rights Act the following day.