45: Mimi Jones

2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the ELCA, the 40th anniversary of women of color, and the 10th anniversary of LGBTQ+ siblings.

It’s an incredibly important marker for the ELCA, though it is only the beginning for the Church, as women are still denied ordination across the denominations and hold less than 15% of the leadership positions in the worldwide church! Therefore, in 2020, we in the Oregon Synod will highlight one woman from Christian history every week. Some you may know, others you may not, but all worthy of our respect and gratitude.

November 1: Mimi Jones

When she was a teenager, Jones put her body on the line to protest segregation and became an international news story that influenced the passing of the Civil Rights Act. On June 18, 1964, 17-year old Jones participated in a swim-in protest at a whites-only pool in St. Augustine Florida. The manager of the pool responded by pouring muriatic acid into the water. Jones recalled: “All of a sudden the water in front of my face started to bubble up, like a volcanic eruption. I could barely breathe. It was entering my nose and my eyes.” After witnessing this, a fully-clothed policeman jumped into the water—and arrested the protestors. They were taken to jail without any medical treatment. The swim-in had been planned before she arrived, but most of the activists did not know how to swim. Jones did. The organizers chose this particular pool for three reasons: 1) It was frequented by out of town journalists. 2) Dr. King was arrested trying to dine in the restaurant. And 3) the manager was the president of the Florida Hotel and Motel Association. What gave this otherwise typical moment of racist viciousness outsize importance? It was photographed. This picture—of a horrified teenage Black girl and a vicious and gleeful white man—highlighted the evil of segregation and became an international news story. The next day the US Senate—which had been stalled—voted to pass the Civil Rights Act.

Jones spent a week in jail before she was able to make the 240-mile trip back home to Georgia. She had come to St. Augustine because Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference had put out the call for activists. Jones had joined the movement at 15, helping aspiring Black voters to pass ballot box literacy tests. She traveled the country as a charismatic, young spokeswoman, raising money for the 1963 March on Washington. Before the incident in the pool, she had already been threatened by the Klan and arrested multiple times.
Back home in Georgia, she—along with 6 classmates—desegrated a white high school. A gifted student, she finished fifth in her class. Typically, the best students would lead the procession at graduation. But the school did not want to see a Black girl walk in front of so many white students, so they canceled the tradition. Jones didn’t let it stop her, going on to earn her bachelor’s degree. In 2014, Jones returned to St. Augustine accompanied by a documentary filmmaker, who featured her story in the movie “Passage at St. Augustine.” She died on July 26 at the age of 73.