Florida is known for its beautiful beaches and mild climate, but its history of racial inequality is a more somber story. Even before the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum on a broad scale, activists here worked to secure civil rights for African Americans. Two schoolteachers, Harry and Harriette Moore, began their efforts in the 1930s in the Mims community, despite intimidation from the Ku Klux Klan. The Moores opened the state’s first NAACP chapter, pushed for equal pay for teachers and as a result lost their lives in a bombing. In Vero Beach in 1948, the Brooklyn Dodgers established Dodgertown, an integrated training facility where Jackie Robinson practiced with white teammates and broke baseball’s color barrier. In other parts of the state, beach “wade-ins” challenged the laws of segregation, and a landmark court case in Panama City secured a defendant’s right to an attorney in criminal trials, regardless of ability to pay.
As the fight for civil rights became more widespread and the federal government was on the verge of taking action, the country’s oldest city – St. Augustine – saw violence intensify. A local activist called on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to lend their support. They came, and Dr. King’s subsequent arrest at a whites-only motel restaurant led to on-site protests, with demonstrators jumping into the motel pool. When the media captured images of the owner pouring muriatic acid into the pool, the angry response from a watching world was the impetus needed for the Senate to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.