NEWS

Mimi Jones, dies at 73

Aug 14, 2020

Attacked at a 1964 civil rights protest, Mimi Jones, who died at 73, was the subject of an iconic photo

In 1964, Mimi Jones was a 17-year-old civil rights activist when she joined other activists who traveled by bus from her home in Albany, Ga., to a protest at a St. Augustine, Fla., motel that denied service to Blacks.

Their destination was the Monson Motor Lodge, where “Black folks were denied a reservation there, they were denied the opportunity to have breakfast at the motel, and of course you were denied the opportunity to swim in the pool,” she told WGBH-TV in 2017.

Jones — she was Mamie Nell Ford then — donned a bathing suit and joined other protesters in a pool swim-in, only to be attacked when the hotel manager poured acid into the water next to her on June 18, 1964.

“All of a sudden, the water in front of my face started to bubble up like a volcanic eruption,” she told WGBH. “I could barely breathe. It was entering my nose and my eyes.”
Jones, who later moved to Boston and had lived in Roxbury, died Sunday in her home. She was 73.

A photo of her reacting to the acid being poured into the pool became a defining image of the civil rights era. And condemnation of the attack in the nation’s capital helped push forward federal civil rights legislation.

“Less than 24 hours later, the civil rights bill, introduced a year before that had been stalled in the US Senate, would win approval, leading directly to the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964,” wrote documentary filmmaker Clennon L. King in a piece that is posted on the NBC News website.

He directed the film “Passage at St. Augustine: The 1964 Black Lives Matter Movement That Transformed America,” which won the Hampton Award of Excellence at the 2015 Roxbury International Film Festival.

Jones said in an interview with King that she and other activists in Albany had been recruited by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to travel to St. Augustine.

“When they asked for volunteers to participate in the swim-in demonstration, I said, yes, because, despite segregation, I knew how to swim,” she said in the interview for the NBC News piece.

She was shocked by the attack by the motel manager.

“The water bubbled up like a volcano right in front of my face,” she told the Globe in 2017. “I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Police were at the edge of the pool “and carted us off to jail,” she told WGBH.

A service will be announced for Jones, who leaves her husband, John of Roxbury; her son, Gervase of Roxbury; and three sisters, Willa May Woodson of Detroit, and Geneva Jones and Altomease Ford Latting, both of Birmingham, Ala.

In the WGBH interview three years ago, Jones said that it often seems as if the civil rights movement has yet to fulfill its aspirations.

“I think we’re going backwards — I do — and in many instances, I think it’s worse,” she said in 2017.

As for that historic moment in 1964, “my commitment to social justice and being an activist, before I went to St. Augustine, had already been molded and crafted and shaped. St. Augustine was just another one of the stations on the journey.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.