The camera looks to the sky from the bottom of a swimming pool as bodies swim past the lens. We cannot tell if they are black bodies or white bodies, they are just dark outlines against the light. Then we see black skin and hear white voices from 1964, including those of President Lyndon Johnson and James Brock, the owner of the Monson Motor Lodge in St. Augustine, Florida, the focus of frequent anti-segregation protests in 1963 and 1964, including the shocking incident that led to the signing of Americas first civil rights act.
An old movie promoting tourism in St. Augustine rolls on the screen. We are reminded that Americas oldest city was Florida's leading tourist attraction before Disney World, construction of which began in 1967. We see images of protestors, both for and against desegregation. Black and white people march with signs demanding an end to segregation. White people wave Dixie flags and signs that ridicule Dr. Martin Luther King. A reporter appears on television and talks about the potential for a long hot summer in Saint Augustine.
After views of Saint Augustine as it is today, still a tourist destination famous as "the Ancient City," we see Dr. King visiting Saint Augustine in 1964, talking about the African American community which has repeatedly aired its grievances to no effect. He says they are now facing a "long, hot, but hopefully non-violent summer." Then we hear Ambassador Andrew Young, speaking today in an interview recorded for the film, about the non-violence movement and how "We did no violence to people or property."
The film then proceeds to the story of the King Street marches, in which Andrew Young was beaten. Much of the narration in this segment is provided by present-day St. Augustine City Commissioner Errol Jones. We also hear from Rabbi Israel Dressner, who was on those marches, along with a dozen or so other rabbis from New Jersey. Images of the black and white civil rights marchers are juxtaposed with pictures of the white "opposition" waving Dixie flags and pro-segregation signs, urged on by Rev. Connie Lynch. The beating of Andrew Young is described.
Peaceful views of St. Augustines tranquil streets, shaded by oak trees draped in Spanish moss, lead us back to the present where we hear a voice, revealed to be that of Bonnie Brock, daughter of James Brock, owner of the Monson Motor Lodge, talking about the story of the Monson. We see the Monson Motel, as it was in 1964, the focus of many protests against segregation, and in 2004, about to be torn down. The world hears, for the first time, from the motel's owner, James Brock, now an elderly man.
Newsreel footage shows protestors outside the lodge. The establishment was forbidden, by state law, to serve blacks and whites together. Police use cattle prods on both black and white protestors to get them to move away from the building and into police cars. Mr. Brock describes how he asked the police to stop using the prods. They complied.
Mr. Brock also reveals that he was opposed to whites preventing blacks from using the beaches on Anastasia Island. Tourist board footage from 1964 extols the virtues of these beaches. Then we see black protestors, is beach attire, walking onto the sand. Archive footage shows groups of white protestors, many armed with clubs and chains, watch the black bathers kneel in prayer. Violence breaks out as white segregationists attack the black bathers as police look on, then belatedly engage. We see the black bathers dont fight back. Narration and an eye witness account is provided by one of the participants in these protests, J.T. Johnson of the Southern Christian Leadership Council. He comments with satisfaction on the integration of the beaches today and talks of the role of music in helping he and his fellow-protestors make it through those dangerous times.
The focus then returns to the sit-ins at the Monson and Dr. Martin Luther King's attempt to get served there. This resulted in a very polite exchange with Mr. Brock, but nevertheless led to King's arrest. We hear King describe Brock as not a racist or a recalcitrant person.
Despite the extensive national news coverage of this event, state and local opposition to desegregation and the as yet unsigned civil rights act, remained strong. What happened next is described by J.T. Johnson. A plan to "integrate" the swimming pool at the Monson was hatched. This involved a group of people, white and black, who agreed to jump into the pool at the same time.
Johnson narrates this event until we see the violent reaction from police and white bystanders. Words and images on the screen take over the narrative as Mr. Brock pours acid in the pool in an attempt to get the black and white protestors out. With input from King, Brock, and Brock's daughter, together with images of the time, the film provides multiple perspectives on this microcosm of the civil rights struggle. We are told that Brock, who years before had founded and chaired the United Way for St. John's County, snapped from the pressure of being targeted by both sides of the dispute. After the motel opens its doors to blacks it is picketed by white separatists. However, we hear Brock, speaking today, says that there will be no apology from his lips for his actions back then.
It becomes clear that the swimming pool incident, and the willingness of protestors to remain non-violent while enduring repeated outbreaks of violence at the hands of "the opposition" put pressure on of politicians in Washington and precipitated the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
At this point in the picture we begin to see different images of modern day St. Augustine from those shown in the tourist brochures: sub-standard housing in the African American community of West Augustine; a lack of basic infrastructure; young people getting into trouble.
Different measures of the gap between white and black communities are presented. The voice of a new generation, one that feels trapped in poverty, talks of hip-hop music as "the only way out." State and local legislators and a US congresswoman weigh in, as does a local historian, a history professor, and a social commentator.
As the African American city commissioner describes the lingering effects of the backlash against the black community in the wake of enforced desegregation, the focus moves to another incident in 1964, the arrest of blacks who attempted to attend a white church. Some of those arrested reflect on what it was like to go to jail for trying to attend church. Those same people then attend a service of reconciliation held in 1964 by the same church that had them arrested.
Amid these signs of hope for increased inter-racial dialog and a new understanding of the wounds of the past, statistics define the gaps that exist in American society 40 years after "victories" like the passage of the first civil rights act. In closing, a roll call of the St. Augustine marchers scrolls up the screen and, in a series of vignettes, we hear once more from some of those interviewed for the film.