Wednesday, July 8, 2009

refuse to swim with black people

Demonstration at an “all-white” swimming pool
Cairo, Illinois, 1962

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.

(215) 947-0700

And their email:


  1. Lawrence native here. You can be sure that I heard a LOT about Bleeding Kansas and Langston Hughes growing up (I graduated from Free State High School) but this is the first I've heard about the swimming pool.

  2. Aw, this news story makes me want to cry. It should be a crime to give kids such an early lesson in racism's ugliness.

    My kid goes to a big-city day camp with a public park district swimming pool. The kids and the camp counselors are of assorted races and everyone behaves like it's 2009, not 1959.

  3. That is totally heartbreaking. I wish I found it hard to believe this could happen in this day and age, but I don't.

  4. Got to love the North and the East coast too. They'd like you to believe that it is the small town, rural, and South that is racist. We know better.

  5. You forget to write about...

    Stuff White People Do:
    Attending Pop Star Funerals Dressed Like the Deceased.

    aka Corey Feldman at the Michael Jackson memorial. How could you foul up on such an event to boost your "see, i'm not racist. I'm calling them out." factor.

  6. Um, Leroy, that's pretty o/t. And I didn't even write about the event you're saying I "fouled up on." And I'm definitely not trying to "boost [my] 'see, i'm not racist. I'm calling them out.' factor." I'm writing incognito here, trying mostly to wake up other white folks, but also myself.

    Anyway, let's return now, please, to our regularly scheduled programming . . .

  7. Unfortunately as a black person we are faced with a dilemma of do we have to go a make a public spectical about the situation or shake our head and keep it moving. If I was to go to the new media with every piece of racial unjustice I see, I could not have a full time job because this would be it. Although we have come a very long way we still have a ways to go.

  8. OMFG! Its a frickin'pool. I'd be far more worried about the sleepy or lackadaisical lifeguard on duty.

  9. Wow. Just . . . the damage done.

    How do you fix THAT?

    Bastards oughta be sued for child abuse.

    "You kids are beneath us. And don't you forget it!"

    (btw, Macon, "Leroy" can't really be what that writer is trying to imply he is with that tag.)

  10. Sadly, I brought this up on another forum and everyone just defended the club, saying the kids were being rowdy and unsupervised. It's as if no one wants to believe it's possible.

    There's a "benefit society club" that runs a big eatery in my small city not far from Philly that has a whites only rule. They will let PoC in with a white member, but every time one applies, they are told there are no open slots. Ick. Just, Ick.

  11. Despicable. But hey its post racial and blacks are the ones keeping racism alive (especially with race mongers like Sharpton and jackson, yea right) and whites are trying to move past it because they are so above racism. Yeah right.

    The worst part of the story was how the White kids immediately jumped out of the pool when the Black kids went in. Who are these kids learning that from? Yeah Post racial my a*s. Nothing in this country will ever change. You cannot get rid of the taint that Whites and other groups think that Blacks are tainted sub-human species. They will never see us as being even remotely similar to them.

  12. This is fucking ridiculous. We have a black president so they better watch themselves. We running this ish. But real talk this is unacceptable and should not be allowed.

  13. If you still have any hope for humanity after this story, DO NOT read the comments posted on the original news article. They are beyond abhorrent. The whole thing is one of the saddest stories I've heard in a long time.

  14. I'm wondering if any of you commenters here were at the valley club?

    Because what is on here is far from the truth in what happened. No such thing happened concerning, "When the minority children got in the pool all of the Caucasian children immediately exited the pool".

    As is said on the official website,,the place became crowded and there wasn't enough room for all the people who wanted to use the pool.

    But you people look for anything and everything to jump on as racist. The only thing racist about this are those who look to gain something from a "racist" event, invented or not.

    Try being a white, asian or hispanic kid visiting a YMCA in Philadelphia. Then you'll see what real racism is. You want to read about real racism, read this:

    Oh wait, if the victim is lighter-skinned or white and those acting out in a racist way are black then it can't be racism!

    Stop just concentrating at what media wants us to. See the full picture.

  15. Jon, were you yourself at the pool?

    If not, then why are you so anxious to believe the self-defensive claim of the swim club? Just because it's on their "official website"? And why are you so anxious to accept their self-defensive, ass-covering claims about what happened over those of people actually involved in the event, and interviewed about it?

  16. OMG. changed to an all-text message, thus not allowing visitors to see the all-white pictures (all-white swim visitors and swim teams) plastered all over their website.

  17. Wow. Wonder how long it'll stay that way.

    Interesting that their explanation has changed, from not wanting to change the "complexion" of the pool to its being too crowded.

    Uh huh. Right. I totally believe this official website.

    Thank you for pointing that out, LaSmartOne.

  18. That is mind-boggling. Thank you for posting this.

    I used to spend a couple weeks every summer with my grandmother at her apartment complex. The complex had a pool, and every year I would bring my swimsuit but every year she avoided taking me to the pool. Finally, one year when I asked why we couldn't go, she responded with "There are a lot of black children there and I know their skin doesn't come off in the water but I don't want to take you."

    How's that for an early lesson in racism?

  19. Reminds me of something that happened in the 80s, when I was on tour with my band. It was a group tour with several other performers, one of whom happened to be black.

    We were heading through a smallish town in inland BC -- I think it might have been Kelowna? -- on a hot day and saw a community rec centre that had a pool, and thought it might be nice to go swimming (particularly since the tour bus had no air conditioning, so everyone was really hot).

    There were a lot of people in the pool, and it was wall-to-wall whiteness. And when the one black guy in our group got in the pool, it was like a space cleared around him. Parents started pulling their kids out of the pool. I was really shocked because I didn't think people still did things like that, but apparently they did -- and do even now. :-(

  20. Reading about this doesn't surprise me and it's disgusting. Now they're saying "safety issues" which I take to mean another code word for "POCs not welcomed here."

    Not surprisingly enough, the comments on Yahoo! following this story made me sick to my stomach and embarrassed for people still stuck in the 1950s. Someone had the nerve to say," I'm not prejudice...but if Blacks aren't so racist, then why do they have their own schools, and beauty pageants? Whites need to start their own group called 'white pride'.

    I guess this last comment made me angry, because Limbaugh pulled this same crap with Sotomayor comparing her to KKK because she is a member of La Raza. Why is it that when people of color who are a part of organizations meant to preserve their culture(mostly because of throughout history, they were forced to assimilate) they're labeled as racists? I am black, but also am part Cherokee from my mother. In high school, I joined the Native American Society to learn more about this part of my heritage--so I guess that makes me a racist. To me, this is still a form of oppression.

    I think that you should do a post called Stuffwhitepeopledo:
    Accuse POC groups of being racist to justify the actions of hatred groups such as the KKK and Stormfront

  21. Thank you for the suggestion, Ebony, I'll think about it. I agree that such common white complaints about non-white expressions of communal interest and/or solidarity are annoying at best, and on the side of "at worst," ignorant.

  22. I appreciate the history lesson, it's something I can easily pass on to people. Like a lot of things about the U.S.'s racial history, this is one of those things that are easily forgotten or swept under the rug. Which is one reason I'm not surprised something like this could happen in 2009. Hopefully, this can be one of those moments where we can have an honest conversation about the state of race in the U.S.

  23. Why would a black people want to swim with people that hate them?

  24. Now come on people, why are we suprised that this unfortunate incident even happened. this country is STILL a very racist country. Were only 60 years from segregation, jim crow and the movement. 50 years from only being able to sit in the back of the bus. and what, like 120 years from the last slave being set "free". Now come on, how far did you really think they were going to let us go...Yeah we have a black President but really, how much power does he really have. Did you really think that the race relations were going to get better because of President, as a matter of fact, they just seemeed to get worse becasue now we have angry white people out there taking out their frustrations on everyone black they can! Passisve-Aggressive. Until were are all the same color, Race will ALWAYS matter. Its funny, im 35 years old, i went to an all white private school, lived in an all white neighborhood and had all white friends, but it wasnt until my 30s that i experienced racism and ill tell you, to have to expericence it at all cuts like a knife, no matter what your age is! Nothing that white people do or say suprise me anymore. I dont hate them and cant say that all white people are racist, because they're not. thats like saying all black people like rap and eat fried chicken. but i guess my point is......we have a long way to go before EVERYONE is truly equal!

  25. This sickens me something fierce. I'm not a perfect parent, but something I am really proud of is my 4 year old. She has two uncles by the name of Mark-- one is black, one is white. She refers to them as "Big Uncle Mark" and "Little Uncle Mark". This makes me hopeful.

  26. It's sad that people are so terrible - still 1 in 10 children in the UK are from mixed race families - if we can do it in the old world then there's hope for the USA.


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