King imprisoned in St. Augustine in 1964

Register of Saint Augustine

Editor’s Note: The Associated Press filed this report on June 11, 1964, the day the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested in St. Augustine.

ST. AUGUSTINA – The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was imprisoned on June 11, 1964, after he attempted to eat at one of St. Augustine’s top restaurants overlooking Matanzas Bay.

While Dr. King and 17 companions were detained for violating Florida’s unwanted guest law, other civil rights protesters made another late night march through crowds of mocking whites.

The whites threw firecrackers into the line of 200 walkers as they circled the former slave market. But there were so many helmeted officers – one for each marcher – that the white curses did not attempt to assault the protesters as they had done before.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King is put into a police cruiser by Police Chief Virgil Stuart in St. Augustine on June 11, 1964, after being arrested for trying to break into a downtown motel restaurant, the Monson Motor Lodge.  He was charged with trespassing, intent to breach the peace and conspiracy after being warned by the motel manager to leave.

Arrest of the King:Civil rights leader spent the night in jail for trespassing

Photo gallery:Throwback to 1964 in St. Augustine

After the march, a crowd of white youths attempted to form their own march but were blocked by state troopers and police dogs.

At one point, the crowd crossed the line and rushed towards the black neighborhood where the marchers were gathering at a church. But about 50 soldiers and deputies ran into a body over two blocks and cut them off.

Shortly before the march, authorities found a cache of weapons containing sulfuric acid, chains and clubs hidden under a wall along the parade route.

The city had taken two steps to reduce the danger. Workmen removed the bricks that lined the flowerbeds in the small park that adjoins the former slave market, and an electrician installed seven mercury vapor lamps that will light up the dark corners of the square.

Last night, white men and youths hiding in the shadows threw bricks at state troopers trying to protect civil rights protesters from a cursed mob. The whites crossed the police cordon and beat and kicked several demonstrators. Other walkers said they were burned by acid thrown by the crowd.

By day, downtown St. Augustine is the picture of tranquility with old men playing checkers in the slave market and tourists gazing at old Spanish buildings from horse-drawn surreys. At night, it is the scene of an outpouring of racial hatred and violence.

Dr King was arrested on the doorstep of the Monson Motor Lodge restaurant after a 20-minute standoff with company chairman and chief executive James Brock.

Everyone in town had known for 24 hours that Dr. King would be arrested. He announced yesterday that he would go to prison for dramatizing discrimination against Negroes in the oldest city in the country.

When Dr. King and his chief assistant, the Reverend Ralph D. Abernaty, arrived shortly after noon, Mr. Brock was waiting.

The previous night, Mr. Brock, who is also president of the Florida Hotel and Motel Association, had been seen on a downtown street carrying a shotgun, billy stick, pistol and flashlight. He was one of several businessmen in town who were appointed special deputies yesterday by Sheriff LO Davis. The sheriff said he enlisted civic clubs in the city to help maintain law and order.

Mr Brock told Dr King that he and his party of eight were not wanted, including a white Boston University chaplain, the Reverend William England. The two then began a polite debate on the issue of civil rights.

Dr King asked if Mr Brock understood ‘the humiliation our people must go through’. Mr. Brock replied that he would incorporate his company if the prominent white citizens of the community asked him to or if he received an order from the Federal Court.

“You realize it would be detrimental to my business to serve you here,” Mr Brock said. “I have unfortunately had to arrest 84 people here since Easter.”

Reverend Martin Luther King and Reverend Ralph Abernathy in St. Johns County Jail after their arrest on June 11, 1964.

Then he turned to the television cameras, smiled and said, “I would like to invite my many friends across the country to come to Monson’s. We expect to stay apart.

As cameras and reporters recorded the symposium, a burly white man, eager for lunch, pushed his way through the crowd, shoved Dr. King hard, and entered the restaurant.

Eventually, Sheriff Davis and a deputy arrived and took Dr. King and his companions to jail. Dr King was due to remain in jail for a few days as the protests continue.

There were indications authorities were beginning to crack down on gangs of white people who repeatedly unleashed violence in the town square without arrest or punishment.

Fingerprint card of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King when he was arrested on June 11, 1964.

State troopers, dispatched by Governor Farris Bryant yesterday, used tear gas to break up the crowd that caused last night’s outbreak. And for the first time white assailants were arrested.

Sheriff Davis said four St. Augustine youths were charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest and a fifth was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, a large chain.

In Tallahassee, Governor Bryant said he had informed the White House that law and order would be maintained without the help of troops or federal marshals. Earlier, Dr King had asked President Johnson to send marshals due to an apparent breakdown in local law enforcement.

“It is expected that there will be more protests,” Governor Bryant said. “We cannot guarantee that someone will not throw a stone. We cannot completely stop any overt act. To do this, we would have to line the sidewalks with the police. But law and order can and will be maintained.

Before going to jail, Dr. King observed that law enforcement had improved since state troopers had bolstered local authorities.

In Jacksonville, Federal District Judge Bryan Simpson said in a court order that there was a deliberate attempt by law enforcement in St. Augustine to break the civil rights movement here by punishing those arrested. Judge Simpson ordered bond reductions for defendants in sit-in cases and ordered Sheriff Davis to stop putting prisoners in an outdoor pen in full sun and padded cells.

“More than cruel and unusual punishment has been shown,” Judge Simpson said in his order. “Here is exhibited in its raw ugliness, a studied and cynical brutality deliberate and invented to break men, physically and mentally.”