St. Augustine: home to mass arrest of rabbis | News

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St. Augustine: home to mass arrest of rabbis

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- A little known part of the civil rights movement happened on the First Coast.

It was the largest mass arrest of rabbis in U.S. history, and it happened 50 years ago this summer in St. Augustine.

Carol Rovinsky of St. Augustine is working on one of the most meaningful projects of her life. She is planning a reunion of rabbis from across the country who were arrested in St. Augustine in 1964.

"For most of the rabbis, it was the defining moment of their lives," Rovinsky said.

She has been interviewing those rabbis who are still alive.

In 1964, "Martin Luther King had asked one of the rabbis to gather up rabbis and come down and help with the non-violent civil rights movement in St. Augustine," she explained.

King even sent a telegram to a convention of rabbis. Sixteen rabbis and one administrator answered the call. When they arrived at the airport in Jacksonville, they heard the KKK was there too.

Rovinsky heard that law enforcement pulled the rabbis over a lot during the drive to St. Augustine.

"One of the rabbis told me they were stopped every ten minutes and they were searched," she noted. "All of them had to get out of the car. They were searched like they were criminals."

She suspects some of those officers were connected to the KKK.

The rabbis marched in St. Augustine with blacks. The second day of their stay, they split up into groups. Some of them went to the Monson Motor restaurant, some went to the Chimes Restaurant, and others went to the Monson Motor Lodge swimming pool. There, at the pool, the rabbis observed and also prayed while the white hotel manager poured muriatic acid into the pool where black teenagers chose to continue swimming.

Of those teenagers in that pool, "One of the rabbis told me, it was one of the most heroic things he'd ever seen," Rovinsky said.

All 16 rabbis and one administrator were arrested for "something like unlawful assembly" Rovinsky noted. She said when they were arrested, they were praying.

"They were all taken to one jail cell. It was very hot. One of them said it was 100 degrees," she explained.

Rabbis told her while they were in that one cell, they were served baby food for dinner, they did not have toilet paper, and a4ll 16 men had only two beds. Some chose to fast for 36 hours.

Photos of that swimming pool incident filled newspapers around the country. Many believe those images of the acid and the pool were the last straw for Johnson and Congress… and ultimately prompted the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Rovinsky added, "All the rabbis said they went [to St. Augustine] because of the Holocaust. It was only 20 years after the holocaust where Jews had gone to concentration camps."

When few people stood up to the atrocities of the holocaust, these rabbis wanted to stand up for the social justice of their day.

They wanted to make a difference… and Rovinsky wants to honor them for it.

A reunion is planned for Jun 17th and 18th in St. Augustine, exactly 50 years since the largest mass arrest of rabbis in the United States.

----To connect with Jessica Clark, follow her on Twitter at @JessicaFCN or Like her on Facebook.


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