Phil Garber
6 min readFeb 26, 2022
Photo by Unseen Histories on Unsplash

The Truth About Our Country

Will Set You Free

It was 1964 and James “Jimmy” Brock, manager of the Monson Motor Lodge in St. Augustine, Fla., and president of the Florida Hotel & Motel Association, was not about to allow black and white civil rights workers to integrate the motel’s whites only pool. So when the freedom fighters began their “swim in” and jumped in the pool on this June 18, 1964 afternoon, Brock dumped a two gallon drum of muriatic acid acid into the water to force them out while police jumped in the pool to arrest protesters. The photo of the incident made national news. A week earlier, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested on the steps of the motor lodge, the only time he was arrested in Florida, the Sunshine State.
Brock died in 2007 and was remember in news reports by friends as a respected businessman and a good investor in St. Augustine tourism.
The sheriff of St. Johns County at the time, Lawrence “L.O.” Davis, was not about to allow the trouble makers from the north and the uppity African Americans in his county to disrupt the white residents’ cherished southern way of life. So to keep order and fulfill his sworn duty, Davis got help from some friends who like Davis, were members of the Ku Klux Klan. Meanwhile, Mayor Joseph Shelley and Chief of Police Virgil Stuart they were avowed segregationists and neither did anything to stop the Klansmen and their dirty work. This was the south.
There’s no mention of the Klan in the official St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office record but there is mention that Davis, who served for more than two decades, from 1949 to 1970, was “well respected in the community. Many citizens tell stories of his kindness; taking bags of groceries to those who were in need, or helping others get jobs.”
A sentence in the sheriff’s report cites difficult times with the civil rights movement in St. Augustine in the early 1960s and how “the climate was stressful in those years, but with Sheriff Davis’ leadership, the community held together.”
The current advertisements urging tourists to come on down, note that St. Augustine is the nation’s oldest city, located in St. John’s County in northeast Florida, and that the area attracts tens of thousands of sun worshipers to its quiet, beautiful beaches, swanky restaurants and other vacation attractions. The city was founded in 1565, ironically named for a Black man, a 4th-century bishop from what is now Algeria. The central market of the city was where slaves were once sold and is now still referred by guides as the “Slave Market.”
You’d be hard pressed to find much about how St. Augustine was a hotbed of civil disobedience in the 1960s and was the scene of some of the bloodiest confrontations between local white residents and African Americans seeking their civil rights. Likewise, try finding out about Jimmy Brock and his acid and Sheriff Davis and his Klan buddies. You will have to do your research.
Proponents of critical race theory want to take the veil off the horrific history of St. Augustine as well as other places around the nation. Critical race theory, which is taught mostly in college and law schools, argues that racism is systemic in this country’s institutions and that the history of slavery and racism must be exposed if the nation is ever to turn away from its racist identity. It is not taught in K-12 schools in Florida or any other state and many right wing legislators want to keep it that way. Typical of legislation being considered elsewhere, Florida legislation would ban lessons that teach that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.” The Florida proposal also would allow parents to sue a school if any instruction caused students “discomfort, guilt or anguish.”
There was great anguish and discomfort in Florida and in 1964, college students began non-violent protests to integrate public accommodations with sit-ins at lunch counters, picketing and marches through downtown. Protests were often met with police violence, homes of African Americans were firebombed, black leaders were assaulted and threatened with death and others were fired from their jobs.
In the spring of 1964, St. Augustine civil rights leader Robert Hayling asked for help from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) which was led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. From May until July 1964, King and Hayling, along with Andrew Young, later a mayor, congressman and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, organized marches, sit-ins and other forms of civil disobedience in St. Augustine. In return, hundreds of black and white civil rights supporters were arrested and many were beaten.
The Monson Motor Lodge and its restaurant were at the core of the battle between civil rights supporters and white supremacists after blacks were banned from the facility in June 1964.
The N.Y. Times reported that on July 25, 1964, two months after the incidents at the pool and other violence targeting civil rights workers, a special state police force cracked down on the Klan after a fire bomb was thrown into the Monson Motor Lodge that that had temporarily integrated. Five men also were charged with burning a cross on private property without permission and one also was charged with wearing a hood that covered his face, a violation of state law.
Hours before the men were charged, a gallon jug of flammable liquid was tossed through a window of the Monson Motor Lodge dining room and ignited by two Molotov cocktails made with soft‐drink bottles.
Charged were J. B. Stoner of Atlanta, an attorney for the Klan; Connie Lynch of San Bernardino, Calif. a segregationist who says he is a clergyman; Paul Cochran, identified as a Klan leader in Jacksonville, and Bill Coleman, a St. Augustine man also identified as a Klan leader.
Jesse Benjamin “J.B.” Stoner Jr. was an American neo-Nazi, segregationist politician and a domestic terrorist who was convicted in 1980 of the 1958 bombing of the Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. He was founder and long-time chairman of the National States’ Rights Party as well as the publisher of its newsletter, The Thunderbolt. Stoner unsuccessfully ran as a Democrat for several political offices in order to promote his white supremacist agenda. Stoner earned a law degree and was the lawyer for James Earl Ray, the convicted killer of the Rev. King. Stoner also was a suspect in the King’s assassination and several bombings of synagogues and black churches during the 1950s and 1960s.
Ironically named, the Rev. Charles Conley “Connie” Lynch, was ordained a minister in the General Assembly of Jesus Christ, a racist, anti-Semitic California sect. Lynch was later reordained into the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, a right wing, militarist St. Augustine-based cult which by the 1980s evolved into the group, Aryan Nations. He was also the leader of Unite White People Party of America Inc. and the Christian Defense League and the paramilitary Minutemen, none of which exists today.
The St. Augustine area was long a hotbed of Klan violence. At a Sept. 18, 1964, rally, children sold Confederate car tags while a crowd of more than 300 white supremacists, many in robes, watched as a cross wrapped in burlap smoldered. The speaker was Lynch. Four black men were observing the rally when they were attacked and Lynch called for someone to get kerosene. Finally, Sheriff Davis, an interested onlooker, intervened and the violence receded.
In August 1965, in a bogus attempt to quell the violence, Police Chief Virgil Stuart reached out for advice from the oxymoronic named Alabama Legislative Commission to Preserve the Peace in Montgomery. The commission was created by the Alabama State Legislature in 1963 and went on to investigate many people and groups suspected of seeking to promote changes to Alabama’s racial segregation.
Without facts, we cannot understand the past, the present or the future.