Former St. Augustine Beach motel property receives national recognition as site of beachfront wade-in protests

St. Johns Cultural Council working to improve understanding of St. Augustine’s role in civil rights movement

Confrontation between black integrationists and white segregationists at St. Augustine Beach on June 25, 1964. (Courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection).

ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH, Fla. – Steps from the St. Augustine beach shoreline, the nearly 100-year-old building, bearing the address 370 State Road A1A, is living history. A history that helped change America forever.

Christina Parrish Stone, executive director of the St. Johns Cultural Council, said its story is not shared often enough, according to News 6 partner WJXT-TV.

“We are working hard to make sure people know what an important role St. Augustine played in the civil rights movement,” Parrish Stone said.

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As Parrish Stone explains, the former St. Augustine Beach hotel was the site of beachfront wade-in protests during the 1960s. They were held to protest segregation at St. Johns County beaches.

“There were no beaches in this area that African-Americans could use,” Parrish Stone said. “There was one beach, called Butler Beach, that was designed specifically for African-Americans.”

According to the council, the wade-ins were regularly conducted from June 17, 1964, until July 1, 1964. The following day, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. With its incredible history, the property is now being nationally recognized. The National Park Service has added it to the “National Register of Historic Places.”

Marker along the Freedom Trail at St. Augustine Beach (WJXT)

“Martin Luther King was here, but it was local people who started this activism,” Parrish Stone said. “They organized marches downtown, they organized the wade-ins here. That series of events had a direct impact on the passage of the Civil Rights Act.”

While this is a national nod to the building’s past, its future is also a priority. Parrish Stone said being on the national registry opens the doors for more grants, which she said is helpful when maintaining a historic building, especially one on the waterfront

The bottom floor is currently being used as an art and dance studio, open to the public. Plans for the second-floor restoration are still underway. The council wants to hear from the public on what it should be.

“Some of those residents that participated in those wade-ins are still living here, we want to hear from them, too,” Parrish Stone said. “We have plans to add some interpretive signage and perhaps a memorial to the wade-ins on the site.”

Ensuring local history and its influence is never forgotten is a big priority for the council.

The council wants to hear from the public on what the second floor of the former hotel should be. A community workshop is scheduled for March. For more information, click here.

About the Author:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013. She reports for and anchors The Morning Show.