Weird History

When A Racist Hotel Manager Poured Acid Into A Pool To Stop Civil Rights 

Kellie Kreiss
Updated July 5, 2020 50.4k views 5 items

In the summer of 1964, the tensions compounding around the Civil Rights Movement were heating up faster than the weather in St. Augustine, FL, which was serving as the unofficial – and perhaps accidental – epicenter of the movement. It was there that Martin Luther King Jr. helped organize numerous protests and demonstrations, including one "swim-in" that ended up gaining national attention and forced President Lyndon B. Johnson to take action – because a racist hotel manager poured acid in the pool. 

In response to Martin Luther King Jr.'s unwarranted arrest on June 11, 1964, for attempting to enter the segregated restaurant of the Monson Motor Lodge, demonstrators – white and Black alike – organized a protest at the lodge on June 18, using the whites-only pool as a symbol of resistance by jumping in to swim together, united and unsegregated.

Predictably, the already irate hotel management was further infuriated by this, and, in an effort to evict the protesters from the property, the hotel manager, Jimmy Brock, poured a tub of muriatic acid into the pool water. The image of Jimmy Brock pouring acid into a group of young people has since become a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement.

Many of the photographs taken during this incident spurred national uproar and have since become some of the most important images to come out of the Civil Rights era, capturing the bravery of some – and the inhumanity of others. 

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Fred Rogers Invited Black Actor Fred Clemmons To Join Him In Soaking His Feet In A Pool On National Television
Fred Rogers Invited Blac... is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list When A Racist Hotel Manager Poured Acid Into A Pool To Stop Civil Rights
Photo:  Mister Rodger's Neighborhood/PBS

A few years after the incident at the Monson Motor Lodge and the implantation of integration via the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Fred Rodgers made a statement on national television about wide-spread segregation in swimming pools across America. 

Rodgers invited Black actor François Clemmons to join him on his show, Mister Rodger's Neighborhood. In the episode, Rodgers and Clemmons soak their feet in a pool together. In 1993, they recreated the scene and this time Rodgers washed Clemmon's feet in the pool. 

In the 2018 documentary about the late Rodgers called, Won't You Be My Neighbor?, Clemmons said, "They didn’t want Black people to come and swim in their swimming pools. My being on the program was a statement for Fred."