Passages: Mimi Jones, Activist in Famous Swim-In Photo, 73


Mimi Jones, an activist who was appeared in an infamous 1964 photograph that played a key role in the Civil Rights Movement, died this week at age 73.

As a teenager who grew up in Georgia, Jones took part in various demonstrations as part of the Civil Rights Movement, including the 1963 March on Washington. The following year, she traveled to St. Augustine, Florida to participate in a swim-in, where she and fellow activists (white and black) rented rooms at the segregated Monson Motor Lodge. When she and others swam in the pool, an overlooked front in the battle against segregation, the motel owner poured acid into the water, a striking image captured on film with the 17-year-old Jones screaming as the suited motel manager dumped the clear liquid into the pool.

“We put on our bathing suits, and we went to the pool, and we jump into the pool,” Jones told WGBH-TV in 2017. ” … I could barely breathe. It was entering my nose and my eyes.”

“The water bubbled up like a volcano right in front of my face,” she told the Boston Globe in 2017.

The day after the photo made the rounds of the nation, President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress.

“Mimi did it because she thought it was something that needed to be done,” Sarah-Ann Shaw, a pioneering Black female reporter who had worked for WBZ-TV, told the Globe. “She was not frightened. And she was a kid, too.”

Mimi Jones died Sunday at her home in Roxbury, Massachusetts. She had worked for the state’s department of education. Her death drew recognition from Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley.

“She wanted social justice,” Mimi Jones’s son, Gervase, said. “She was a fighter for equal justice, for civil rights. She was a student of human nature.”

“She was someone who was such an inspiring encourager,” Rev. Emmett G. Price III told WBUR, remembering how Jones “took so much care and trained up all of us who are activists, who are advocates. And it didn’t matter what your concern was, or even what your belief was.”