Mimi Jones, a civil rights pioneer who participated in the 1964 “swim-in” at what was then the Monson Motor Lodge Hotel in St. Augustine, died last Sunday in Roxbury, Massachusetts.
During the “swim-in” on June 18, 1964, the hotel manager was captured on camera pouring acid into a swimming pool full of protesters. The images shocked the country and played a role in leading to change.
In the forefront of the image capturing the moment is then 17-year-old, Mimi Jones.
“You can see her face in that swimming pool just screaming. She said it was terrifying,” said David Nolan, a St. Augustine historian who met Jones six years ago and spoke to her shortly before her death.
Behind Jones in the image, an act of pure hate as a bottle of acidic liquid is dumped into the pool.
“The water started to bubble up around her. Muriatic acid is some nasty stuff. She said she could smell the fumes of it in her lungs,” Nolan said. “Sometimes we make sacrifices.”
Nolan said Jones’ sacrifice, along with those of others in that pool, led to change. That image, along with others taken that day, led to the passage of the iconic Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Monson Motor Lodge Hotel has since been torn down. In its place is the Bayfront Hilton.
But the memory of that fateful day lingers for some. Now, 56 years later, loved ones of that fierce woman whose struggle is forever captured in time are preparing to say goodbye.
Nolan described Jones as a bubbly, vivacious woman who carried on her civic activism in the years after the swim-in. She moved up to Boston and was a well-known figure.
Nolan said one thing Jones wanted to do when she returned to St. Johns County in 2014 was visit St. Augustine Beach.
In the 60s, Nolan said, there were wade-ins and African-Americans weren’t welcome to get in the water. Jones told Nolan she wanted to get in the water, and she wanted him to join her.
“Even though it was the cold months of the year, we dipped our feet into that water and you could just see a smile on her face,” Nolan said. “As a historian, I felt like I was present at kind of the completion of a circle.”
As the push for equality continues today, Nolan said he hopes Jones is remembered not only for her sacrifice, but her courage and conviction. He said he wants people to focus not on the villains of the civil rights movement but the heroes.
“The people who make you feel better. Make you feel that good things can be done and accomplished,” Nolan said. “These are the people who really need to be remembered. Mimi Jones will always be one of them.”