Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And The Right To Swim

fort lauderdale wade in
Racial tensions had been brewing for years... Photo Courtesy: ISHOF Newspaper Archive

On the national holiday remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. we remember his love of swimming and the role he played in making swimming accessible to all.

In the summer of 1964, while congress was debating the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Dr. King sent the future Mayor of Atlanta and US Ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young to St. Augustine, Florida to calm the racial tensions that had been brewing for years.

While leading a peaceful march through the City, Young was attacked and beaten by an angry mob of segregationists on the evening of June 9th. A few days later, Dr. King arrived in St. Augustine and was arrested in an attempt to integrate the restaurant at the Monson Motel.  The following week, a group of “integrationists” staged a “swim-in” at the same motel’s pool.

monson motel 2

Photo Courtesy: ISHOF Newspaper Archive / AP photo

The photographs of motel owner James Brock pouring muriatic acid in the pool, while the protesters were in it, became one of the iconic images of the Civil Rights era.  The next week, the nation was shocked again by newsreels showing angry segregationists attacking African Americans attempting to peacefully “wade in” the water on St. Augustine’s segregated beaches.

See video of the St. Augustine Beach riots here?

These two incidents and the images broadcast in print and on tv across the nation are at least partially credited for ending the filibuster and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The right to swim was important to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  It was an activity he enjoyed doing with his family at the Butler St YMCA in Atlanta – which was known then as a Y for colored people.

LtR Ester Williams Sammy Lee Andrew Young

Photo Courtesy:ISHOF Induction ceremony 1992, L-R, Esther Williams, Sammy Lee, Andrew Young.  ISHOF Archives

It was also important to Ambassador Young, who was a varsity swimmer at Howard University.  In 1992, Young received the Gold Medallion Award from the International Swimming Hall of Fame, given to former competitive aquatic athletes who have gone on to achieve international recognition outside of the pool and who are an inspiration to youth.

4 comments

  1. Maliha Hashmi

    I didn’t know this ….. thank you Dr King❤

  2. avatar
    Lane Four

    And yet, there are still waaaaay too many people who favor racial hatred and segregation. Have we worked so hard to still have such stupidity in our country? Never give up Dr. King’s battle. Never. Give. Up.

  3. Anne GB

    No ~ we are not all the same, but we should draw on our commonalities. We should acknowledge difference as something to be treasured. God did not make us all the same. I believe Mr Martin Luther King Jrs, a great civil rights leaders speech, “I had a dream” on the March on Washington in 1963 to call for better civil rights, submitted that: all men are equal; but why not acknowledge and rejoice in variety to then draw on commonalities. How boring would life be otherwise. It’s really about “equity”. Although what is happening now in the USA is astonishing, and we can only pray for better leadership in the future, to uphold the dignity of all individuals.