Early in Kansas history, Blacks and Whites shared the same churches, schools, and public facilities. As time passed, though, segregation became more common.
In practice, many public places--especially in larger cities -- were segregated. The town of Lawrence, an antislavery stronghold in territorial days, had a segregated swimming pool as late as the 1960s.
African American poet Langston Hughes lived in Lawrence much of his childhood. In his autobiography, Hughes remembered not being able to accompany his white friends to the pool.
"Misery is when you find out your bosom buddy can go in the swimming pool but you can't."
--Langston Hughes, Black Misery, 1969
(source: Kansas State Historical Society)
During the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, a key site of struggle for desegregation of separate-but-obviously-unequal spaces was the public swimming pool. As the Movement gained undeniable credibility with most white Americans, one particular mode of racial interaction took white Americans an extra-long time to get used to -- getting in the water with black people, and especially letting one's kids get in the water with black kids.
In many places, white-controlled pools remained segregated longer than other nearby public facilities. Private swimming pools typically stayed that way for even longer.
By now, in our supposedly "postracial" times, you might think that white discomfort with swimming alongside black people would be long gone. But if you do think that, you'd best think again.
As Philadelphia's NBC affiliate reports today, a private club near Philadelphia is still turning away black swimmers:
More than 60 campers from Northeast Philadelphia were turned away from a private swim club and left to wonder if their race was the reason.
"I heard this lady, she was like, 'Uh, what are all these black kids doing here?' She's like, 'I'm scared they might do something to my child,'" said camper Dymire Baylor.
The Creative Steps Day Camp paid more than $1900 to The Valley Swim Club. The Valley Swim Club is a private club that advertises open membership. But the campers' first visit to the pool suggested otherwise.
"When the minority children got in the pool all of the Caucasian children immediately exited the pool," Horace Gibson, parent of a day camp child, wrote in an email. "The pool attendants came and told the black children that they did not allow minorities in the club and needed the children to leave immediately."
The next day the club told the camp director that the camp's membership was being suspended and their money would be refunded.
"I said, 'The parents don't want the refund. They want a place for their children to swim,'" camp director Aetha Wright said.
Campers remain unsure why they're no longer welcome.
"They just kicked us out. And we were about to go. Had our swim things and everything," said camper Simer Burwell.
The explanation they got was either dishearteningly honest or poorly worded.
"There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion. . . and the atmosphere of the club," John Duesler, President of The Valley Swim Club said in a statement. . . .
The "complexion"? Did he really say that?!
Here's the NBC affiliate's video report, which includes some interviews that I found heartbreaking.
To think that racist attitudes today still make some kids feel the way Langston Hughes felt as a child, who just wanted to go swimming in a nice pool, so many, many summers ago . . .
[h/t: Carmen D of All About Race, via email]
UPDATE: The Field Negro writes,
Holla at the folks at The Valley Swim Club and let them know that in the age of Obama even little Negroes should be able to swim in peace.
THE VALLEY SWIM CLUB
22 TOMLINSON RD
HUNTINGDON VALLEY, PA 19006
HUNTINGDON VALLEY, PA 19006
And their email: firstname.lastname@example.org