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June 15, 2015

Swimming Pools and Segregation: A Long History

Universal Pops / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 Public swimming pool in Raleigh, NC closed by the city after four black males went swimming with two white companions in 1962; this demonstration was part of the Civil Rights Movement.

Universal Pops / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
Public swimming pool in Raleigh, NC closed by the city after four black males went swimming with two white companions in 1962; this demonstration was part of the Civil Rights Movement efforts.

The latest police incident caught on video captures a police officer outside a community pool who appears to be waving his gun at young partygoers who approached him as he tried to subdue and eventually hold down a teenage girl. She was wearing a bikini because she was at a pool party.

The party was held at the community pool in the Craig Ranch North subdivision, which is predominately white although McKinney, Texas is racially diverse. A group of African American teens heard about the party on social media. Not long after they arrived, allegedly a nearby white resident, began to harass the teenagers and one woman told them to “go back to Section 8 housing.” In a statement, the Police Department said officers arrived at the pool responding to a call about a “disturbance involving multiple juveniles at the location, who do not live in the area or have permission to be there, refusing to leave.” Several adults at the pool reportedly placed calls to the police.

After the incident, Eric Casebolt, the police officer, was placed on administrative leave and resigned a few days later. The video and story went viral. The significance and symbolism of it not only resonated because of the larger context of policing and race relations, but also because it revolved around a pool and Black and white people swimming together in that pool. It is a teachable moment.

Public swimming, race and segregation have a long and difficult history in this country, dating back to the early 20th century. Between 1920 and 1940, swimming as a pastime became increasingly popular and the number of public pools being built skyrocketed. By the 1960s, American use of public swimming pools declined dramatically. According to Jeff Wiltse, author of Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America, this decline was the direct result of desegregation.  Although some white people were comfortable with the desegregation of certain public domains, it seemed the majority of them—both from the North and South—shared the belief that swimming pools should be exempt from racial integration.

Swimming pools are unique in that they do not just require swimmers to share a space—rather, swimmers must share an intimate space. In addition to concerns of “contamination,” whites had a deep and widespread fear of interracial romance and dating. Despite laws against segregation, African Americans were often met with angry and sometimes violent crowds of white people when trying to use a public pool. Although these crowds had some initial success in deterring blacks from swimming, eventually integration laws were more strictly enforced and whites had to go elsewhere if they wanted to avoid swimming with African Americans. With this dramatic decrease in swimmers, many public pools closed and white Americans joined private pool clubs where the government did not yet enforce integration. However, even in 1973, when a court order mandated an end to racial exclusion at private clubs, white Americans continued to avoid swimming with blacks by building and solely using residential swimming pools.

Even though the United States has comprehensive civil rights legislation which deems segregation illegal, overt and implicit bias continues to make its way into our schools, voting places, residences and other public and private spaces.  Laws are critical but they are not enough to fundamentally impact the hearts and minds of our citizens.

For educators, families and others who interact with children and youth, you can:

  • Talk with young people about the history of racism, segregation and the struggle for equal rights, using the Civil Rights Movement as an example of how activism can bring about change through legislative means.  Talk with them about the civil rights issues today and what can be done to reverse those injustices.
  • Teach and talk about the ways that implicit bias continues to permeate our institutions, segregating people along racial lines and creating advantages for some and discrimination for others through policing and the criminal justice system, our schools, voting rights and more.
  • Find real opportunities for young people of different racial and ethnic groups to work, study and play together.  Research shows that when people of different racial/ethnic groups interact with each other regularly, stereotyping and prejudice are diminished. Similarly, exposing students to accurate information about other groups allows them to learn about similarities and differences and they are less likely to take on biased attitudes and beliefs. Therefore, it is important to include different people and perspectives in your classroom curriculum and expose children and teens to different kinds of people through books and other media.

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July 3, 2014

From the Archives: ADL & the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Part 3

On June 10, 1964, a year after President Kennedy first introduced the Civil Rights Act to the nation in a televised address, a coalition of 44 Democrats and 27 Republicans voted for cloture, which limited further debate and ended the 57-day filibuster of the bill.

ADL had lobbied for the bill in the months prior, including organizing a meeting of 100 Jewish business, professional, and civic leaders from all over the United States, who met in Washington, DC, and urged their home-state Senators to take action towards passage of the bill.

In a press release reacting to the Senate’s vote for cloture, ADL National Chairman Dore Schary stated:

The vote on the cloture rule which now assures passage of the Civil Rights Act is a victory for all who love justice and love an America conceived in liberty. It is a defeat for no one except those who would prevent America from achieving its ultimate dream… For the thousands of civil rights leaders and for the country as a whole, the final passage of the Civil Rights Bill will provide new opportunities, which they dare not squander, to help our Negro citizens achieve a full measure of their rights as Americans.

The Civil Rights Act passed the Senate with a vote of 73-27 on June 19.

On June 21, the same day on which three civil rights workers were kidnapped and murdered in Mississippi, the Illinois Rally for Civil Rights was held at Chicago’s Soldier Field. The Anti-Defamation League was among the sponsors of the rally, which featured the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. The rally was planned to urge passage by the Senate, but was ultimately anti-climactic, as passage by the House was the imminent. ADL’s Midwest Director A. Abott Rosen described the day:

There was no question of Jewish participation, there were no suspicions on the parts of blacks of Jews or other whites on this glorious day. We didn’t take a head count of the number of blacks and the number of wSigning_of_Civil_Rights_Acthites present in Soldiers Field that day, but to my eye, I would suggest that the group was almost equally divided.

On July 2, the House of Representatives voted by more than a two-thirds margin (289-126) to adopt the Senate-passed version of the Civil Rights Act. That day, President Johnson signed the bill in a nationally broadcast ceremony.

ADL’s National Program Director Oscar Cohen later recalled:

The question arose in ADL circles frequently as to why ADL was so totally involved with the struggle for equal rights for blacks … First, we claimed, that no minority was safe unless all minorities were and prejudice and discrimination could not be cured in our society unless the cure related to all minorities … if civil rights laws were passed, such as fair employment and fair housing laws, they would at one stroke eliminate discrimination against all groups, including Jews.

Today, ADL is help­ing to lead a very large coali­tion work­ing to fight dis­crim­i­na­tion, pro­mote equality, and pro­tect the same vot­ing rights for which civil rights workers Michael Schw­erner, Andrew Good­man, and James Chaney gave their lives. The League is urg­ing broad sup­port for the Vot­ing Rights Amend­ment Act of 2014 (VRAA), which would cre­ate a new for­mula for pre-clearing vot­ing rights changes.

Fifty years later, ADL commemorates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a paramount step towards our core value “to secure justice and fair treatment for all” and reaffirms our dedication to continue the fight in the ongoing struggle for equality.

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July 2, 2014

From the Archives: ADL & the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Part 2


Abbie Rowe. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston Civil rights leaders pose with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson at a meeting at the White House on 22 June 1963. ADL National Director Benjamin Epstein stands to the right of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy

In January 1964, two months after President Kennedy’s death, ADL released its annual report on Congress and civil rights, declaring that because of President Johnson’s “unmatched knowledge” of Congress, “it is now more possible to pass” the Civil Rights Act that President Kennedy had introduced in a televised speech the previous year.

On January 31 Senator Edward M. Kennedy, in his first public appearance in New York since the death of his brother, addressed the 51st annual meeting of ADL. Senator Kennedy told the audience that the civil rights bill “will pass the House unweakened” and that only a filibuster could stop a Senate majority “ready and willing to vote for it.” Ten days later, the House passed the bill by a vote of 290 to 130 and sent it to the Senate, where it met a filibuster.

Soon after the filibuster began, Senators Abraham Ribicoff and Jacob Javits received ADL’s 1964 Human Rights Award. They spoke about the bill in their acceptance speech during the April 9 ceremony, expressing concern about the “‘so-called white backlash’ on civil rights in the North” and warning that “passage of the Civil Rights Bill would solve no problems unless ‘the ultimate responsibility for civil rights’ is accepted by individual Americans.’”

In late April, ADL National Chairman Dore Schary announced plans to convene a meeting of 120 Jewish business, professional, and civil leaders from all over the United States “to sound an alarm that time was running out” and “to urge that the Bill then under debate be passed without weakening deletions and amendments.” Said Schary of the Washington, DC, event:

“This meeting in the nation’s capital is an all-out effort by a group of leading citizens to aid their country in what they consider to be the most critical moment in one of the gravest crises in the past century. They believe that if the Civil Rights Act is not passed soon, the nation faces dangerous disorder in the coming summer months.”

The group, comprised of judges, municipal officials, performers in the arts, financial and industrial leaders from 30 states, first conferred with Administration and Senate spokesmen, and then called or met with their home-state legislators. The group also visited Arlington National Cemetery to “pay their respects to the memory of President Kennedy and leave a floral spray at the graveside.”

ADL National Director Benjamin R. Epstein later recalled the meeting in Not the Work of a Day, noting its success: “[B]y jiminy, it worked, and it was because it was an intelligent approach to lobbying, a perfectly legitimate way of achieving a purpose in a democratic society.” Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey wrote to say: “I am forever grateful … for the ADL’s visit to Washington on behalf of the Civil Rights Bill. The business leaders who gave of their valuable time … performed an indispensible service. I know from conversations with many Senators that their visits were truly effective.”

To be continued…

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