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June 15, 2015 2

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 Off

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 Off

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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