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  • When you imagine the iconic moments of the Civil Rights Movement...

  • Maybe, the march from Selma to Montgomery,

  • lunch counter sit-ins,

  • or bus boycotts across the country.

  • But...what about this?

  • Or this?

  • What happened in the waters of St. Augustine, Florida,

  • was one of the most critical campaigns in the movement to desegregate the US.

  • I still have an eerie feeling when I'm in St. Augustine.

  • They did not like that idea of sharing water.

  • The idea that something that had touched us was going to touch them.

  • American beaches and pools have long been flash points of racial conflict in the US.

  • Historically, many cities prohibited Black people from stepping into public waters.

  • Leisure is primarily a tool of capitalism.

  • Leisure is also a tool of white supremacy,

  • and it articulates power in society in a certain way.

  • Who has it? Who does not? Who has the right to wield it?

  • And oftentimes this plays out in public spaces.

  • In the North and South, white people fiercely opposed the integration of these spaces.

  • In some cases, separate pools and beaches for Black Americans were established,

  • but they were often small, faraway, and dangerous.

  • In New Orleans, for example, the city's designated Black beach, was an area grossly polluted with sewage from nearby fishing camps.

  • That unequal access to recreation is how wade-ins were born.

  • Wade-ins were a spin on the nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins that spread quickly across the country in the 1950s and 60s.

  • But instead of demanding access to businesses,

  • wading in to beaches and pools, demanded access to leisure.

  • On one hand, it's to pronounce a sense of, you see us

  • and you must sort of deal with us when you see us.

  • The other aspect or end of a wade-in is to invoke some sense of reaction.

  • So since you're unwanted, either by law or by social behaviors,

  • people are going to react to your presence.

  • Beaches became an important site for civil disobedience campaigns in the 1950s and early 60s.

  • From the shores of Biloxi to Chicago to Fort Lauderdale,

  • protesters gathered to demand equal access to city waters.

  • By the time wade-ins were organized in St. Augustine,

  • a local movement to end racial discrimination was already making headlines.

  • Soon, the campaign to desegregate these waters,

  • became the tipping point in a campaign to desegregate the entire nation.

  • The movement in St. Augustine started with a local dentist, and NAACP youth council advisor,

  • named Robert Hayling.

  • Beginning in 1963, Hayling mobilized youth in St. Augustine to take part in civil rights sit-ins, marches, and boycotts.

  • I feel it is incumbent upon the city officials to make St. Augustine a glaring example of democracy at work.

  • As the demonstrations picked up, so did violence against them.

  • Hundreds of protesters were beaten, and jailed.

  • Four teenagers who conducted a sit-in were ripped from their families and sent to reform school.

  • The homes of activists were also under constant threat.

  • A targeted shooting of Hayling's home narrowly missed his pregnant wife, and killed his dog.

  • So many houses were shot into. We knew that anytime we had lights on in the house at night,

  • we run the risk of our house being firebombed.

  • So my brother and I still had to keep up with our studies.

  • When darkness came we would take turns going into that closet,

  • closing the door, to study.

  • And we knew if we did not go into that particular area to study,

  • we would either be shot, or the house was going to be burned down.

  • "The tempo of violence increased rapidly in St. Augustine, the Klan paraded in the street, unmindful of the rain."

  • Ku Klux Klan rallies ramped up, too.

  • At one rally, Hayling, and three other activists, were captured and brutally beaten.

  • Later, Hayling was the one convicted for assaulting the Klansmen, after five minutes of deliberation by an all-white jury.

  • He was later forced to resign as an aide to the NAACP,

  • after a grand jury accused him and other activists of being militant.

  • "We white people are going to rise up 140 million strong."

  • Hayling and the other activists, needed a new plan and new allies.

  • Hayling reached out to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,

  • a civil rights organization established by Martin Luther King Jr.

  • At the time, King's main focus was to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

  • Among other measures, the bill aimed to desegregate public places.

  • But in the spring of '64,

  • the bill had been held up by the Senate, stuck in a record-long filibuster.

  • King knew heightened tensions back in St. Augustine made it a segregated super-bomb.

  • And believed high profile acts of civil disobedience, like the ones Hayling organized,

  • could be the push needed to get the Civil Rights Act passed.

  • King and several SCLC leaders, shifted focus to St. Augustine, and began a series of demonstrations that spring.

  • With the SCLC's help, Hayling's movement gained organizers,

  • a financial boost,

  • and high profile supporters.

  • Jackie Robinson, a Black baseball star who pioneered integration of the sport, came to a St. Augustine rally.

  • And Mary Peabody, the 72-year old mother of the governor of Massachusetts,

  • was jailed after a St. Augustine sit-in,

  • which put the movement in national and international newspapers.

  • Then, in a demonstration on June 11, 1964, King attempted to enter the restaurant at the Monson Motor Lodge,

  • a St. Augustine hotel owned by this man, James Brock.

  • King and 17 others were barred from entering, and arrested.

  • A week later, protesters shifted their focus to the swimming pool at the Monson Motor Lodge.

  • By June 18th, two white protesters checked into the hotel.

  • Five Black demonstrators were to be their guests in the pool that day.

  • They drove up to the hotel but they knew they couldn't go in the front door.

  • So they found a way in through the hedges around the pool.

  • As the group waded into the Monson swimming pool,

  • other organizers, including a group of 16 rabbis invited by King, formed a prayer circle around the Monson to join in the civil rights demonstration.

  • With the rabbis outside, King marching down the street with others,

  • and the wade-in at the pool,

  • the demonstration was designed to grab attention.

  • At first, James Brock, the hotel owner, tried to use a cleaning pole to get the swimmers out.

  • But when that didn't work, Brock tried something else.

  • He came out with a bottle of hydrochloric acid, a corrosive pool cleaning chemical,

  • and threw the acid toward the protesters in the pool to drive them out.

  • Mimi Jones, one of the protesters in the pool that day, recalled her experience in a 2017 interview.

  • And all of a sudden, the water in front of my face started to bubble up.

  • Like a volcanic eruption.

  • I could barely breathe,

  • it was entering my nose and my eyes.

  • It was just very frightening and terrifying because I really didn't see him coming.

  • Soon after, a fully clothed police officer jumped into the pool --

  • To arrest us.

  • To usher us out of the pool. And there were other police officers waiting for us.

  • And carted us off to jail.

  • The goal of the wade-in was to make the news.

  • And, photographers captured every moment.

  • "Our whole foreign policy and everything else will go to hell over this...

  • yesterday in the swimming pool in St. Augustine they started pouring acid in the pool."

  • The very next day, after a 60-day filibuster,

  • the US Senate passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, making way for it to get signed into law by the president.

  • As the nation waited for the bill to get signed,

  • the St. Augustine wade-ins continued, on the beaches.

  • Day after day, dozens of Black and white demonstrators showed up to the shore

  • and were met with brutality from white supremacists.

  • We went to St. Augustine Beach. And then all of a sudden they started hitting us and just punching anybody who got in the way.

  • And I was one of the ones who was punched.

  • My nose was broken.

  • The violence peaked on June 25th, when 75 people peacefully entered the water.

  • Highway Patrol was sent in to keep the peace, but violence quickly broke out, and they arrested both Black and white demonstrators.

  • "Notice the speed at which the action develops and the need for officers to pursue the attackers."

  • The demonstrations continued.

  • The fighting continued,

  • the bullying continued.

  • And it wasn't just about us and integrating that beach.

  • We knew about the bigger picture.

  • Later that night, hundreds of white supremacists rallied in St. Augustine, and attacked civil rights protesters on a march.

  • The clash led to 19 Black people being hospitalized, with many more injured.

  • "On the night of June 25th, 1964, the fuse burned down, and the racial bomb exploded."

  • "But to tell me that I don't even have the right to fight to protect the white race."

  • A week later, on July 2nd, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law.

  • "Congress passes the most sweeping civil rights bill ever to be written into the law,

  • the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is signed at the White House by President Johnson...

  • what he calls a turning point in history."

  • This moment was monumental.

  • But in the years that followed, wade-ins continued.

  • Cities used different strategies to keep their hold on segregation.

  • For public beaches and pools, that meant many whites only signs were simply replaced with private club signs, and high fees to enter.

  • And as white people started fleeing cities for the suburbs, local governments neglected many urban pools,

  • and eventually shut them down.

  • As for St. Augustine, the passing of the Civil Rights Act didn't change the minds of white residents there, either.

  • In the years that followed, Dr. Hayling left St. Augustine.

  • He could no longer make a living in the city, or feel safe there.

  • St. Augustine is still, roughly,

  • the St. Augustine that I remember from the 60s.

  • US beaches and pools remain battlegrounds today.

  • In Pennsylvania, black and brown children were kicked out of their rented pool space

  • because management feared it could "change the complexion" of the private club.

  • In Texas, white residents called the police on black teens trying to enjoy the neighborhood pool.

  • And in North Carolina, a white hotel employee called the police on a Black family using the pool during their stay.

  • All of what happened the 60s,

  • you see some of it coming back,

  • it's like deja vu.

  • "I asked you to leave politely. Simple as that."

  • "And I heard this lady she was like, 'what are all these Black kids doing?' and she was like,

  • 'I'm scared they might do something to my child.'

  • "You're not having any prayer here. You're on private property. I'm ordering you to leave this place here."

  • Hi everyone, thanks for watching this episode of Missing Chapter.

  • If you want to know more about St. Augustine and the wade-ins,

  • we have something special for you:

  • the first ever Missing Chapter in podcast form.

  • We dive deeper into Cynthia's experience as a local activist,

  • and speak to a protester who was at the Monson Motor Lodge pool.

  • You can find a link to that podcast in the description below.

When you imagine the iconic moments of the Civil Rights Movement...

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The forgotten “wade-ins” that transformed the US

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/10/08
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