Historic City News readers in St Augustine all know who Jimmy Brock is — made famous by the 1964 photograph at the Monson Motor Lodge pool that branded the Civil Rights movement. But, how many people know who Mamie Nell Ford is?
The 17-year-old girl was recruited to support the movement in St. Augustine by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
“When they asked for volunteers to participate in the swim-in demonstration, I said, yes, because, despite segregation, I knew how to swim,” Ford says.
On that day, on June 18, 1964, seven civil rights activists, including Ford, jumped into the segregated pool at the Monson Motor Lodge to protest its “whites-only” policy. In the famous photograph of that event, Ford is facing the journalists with an alarmed expression as Brock pours acid nearby; trying to drive them out.
“It is as fresh in my mind as the morning dew, because when the acid was poured in the pool, the water began to bubble up,” Ford recalls.
Although the group was arrested shortly thereafter, their protest had the intended effect. It made headlines worldwide. President Johnson said in a recorded phone conversation, “Our whole foreign policy will go to hell over this!”
Within 24 hours, the civil rights bill that had been introduced a year before and had been stalled in the Senate won approval, leading directly to the passage of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed by the president on July 4th.
“Don’t lose heart now because you’re the ones on whom this movement rests,” Ford said in a powerful statement after her release from jail, urging the people of St. Augustine to keep fighting. “People will come and go because they live somewhere else, but you live here and you make this thing happen.”
Ford, who later changed her name to Mimi Jones, returned home and went on to join five other black girls to lead the desegregation of the formerly all-white Albany High School, where she graduated with honors in 1965. She went to college in Boston where she spent her career working for the Department of Education.