Throughout the racial demonstrations in St. Augustine, SCLC employed a variety of tactics that were designed to gain national press coverage and thus to ensure the attention of the American public. In addition to the nightly marches, the most innovative and dramatic tactic was the use of wade-ins and swim-ins to desegregate the beaches and swimming pools. The protests exposed the pervasiveness of segregation, touching as it did on every aspect of life in St. Augustine from schools and neighborhoods to public beaches. What other Americans could not understand was how a public beach could be subdivided into black and white sections.

To assure press coverage of its demonstrations, SCLC would often notify reporters in advance. Hosea Williams, special adviser to Marin Luther King, was particularly adept at developing new tactics and at mobilizing the press. One of his most effective was the swim-in at the Monson Motor Lodge on June 18th, 1964. Reporters stayed at Monson’s during the St. Augustine campaign, and as a consequence, SCLC often conducted its demonstrations there. The first of these was led by a group of rabbis who distracted owner James Brock while a group of black and white protesters jumped into the motel’s swimming pool. Brock yelled at two of the white demonstrators, “You’re not putting these people in my pool.” “These are our guests,” came the reply. In a fury, Brock ran into his office and returned with a two gallon container of muriatic acid that he dumped into the water. A group of whites, led by police officer James Hewitt, gathered nearby, not knowing exactly what to do. Finally, Hewitt jumped into the pool to arrest the protesters.

It was such a farcical sight that few in the media could resist it as illustration of foolishness of segregation. The Russian newspaper Izvestia ran this picture of the protesters with officer Hewitt jumping into the pool on its front page, as did most American newspapers. Segregation might continue for several more years, but few could deny that the institution had been doused that day at Monson’s swimming pool.

Originally published in The Florida Humanities’ magazine The Forum Vol. XVIII No. 1, Winter 1994/1995 by Dr. David R. Colburn