St. Augustine has an extensive history which is evident through the forts, monuments, and dozens of museums that display artifacts of its past. However, not too long ago, the ancient city made national history and headlines. Events in the months leading to the Civil Rights Act (passed in 1964,) would shape the world as we knew it; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is largely to thank for St. Augustine’s seat at the table.

Well-known activists and the Ku Klux Klan used the city of St. Augustine to demonstrate their feelings towards the Civil Rights Movement; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to St. Augustine would only escalate the discussion.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in St. Augustine

Dr. Robert B. Hayling convinced Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to travel to St. Augustine in 1964. Hayling was a dentist and the leader of the movement in St. Augustine. He had an office at 79 Bridge Street, and rumors say that this was the headquarters of the civil rights movement in the old city.

ACCORD Civil Rights Museum

ACCORD Civil Rights Museum and the old “headquarters” of the civil rights movement in St. Augustine.

There is no official record of the homes King stayed in or businesses he visited while in St. Augustine. However, during the 1960s, Janie Price lived at what is now 156 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, and invited King to stay with her before he was arrested at the Monson Motel. King and Price had met years earlier at Morehouse College and were reunited in St. Augustine.

On June 7th of 1964, King was staying in the home of Mrs. And Mr. Canright at 5480 Atlantic View, on Anastasia Island. However, the address of his safe house was leaked by the media and the house was shot at in a drive-by. Ironically, he moved to this house after fearing for his life in the home of Janie Price.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s safe house

5480 Atlantic View, St. Augustine, FL 32080, is one of several safe houses Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stayed in during the summer of 1964.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Arrested in St. Augustine

After a lull in the civil rights movement in the south, King traveled to St. Augustine to push movement efforts forward. In fact, during his stay, he frequently spoke at churches, organized demonstrations in the Plaza de la Constitución, and even spent a night in jail.

On June 11th, 1964 King was arrested on the steps of the Monson Motel for trespassing when he and others attempted to eat at the establishment which had a whites-only policy. After King and followers refused to leave, Jimmy Brock, the manager, had them arrested and they spent a night in the old St. Johns County Jail (now the Detention Center Annex.) This made national headlines and started a buzz around the civil rights movement in the south – which is just what King wanted to accomplish.

Steps of the Monson Hotel, in St. Augustine, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested on in 1964.

This plaque reads “These steps were salvaged when the Monson Hotel was demolished in 2003 and remain a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was arrested here in 1964.”

The steps of the Monson Motel were preserved as a historical item and are now located in the property that replaced the Monson after it was knocked down, the Hilton St. Augustine Historic Bayfront. King’s arrest along with demonstrations he organized are believed to have led to Senate passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Plaque honoring Dr. Robert Hayling and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This plaque reads “The Monson Motel, formerly located on this site, was the focal point of demonstrations led by Dr. Robert Hayling and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that resulted in the passage of the Landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

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