FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida, February 26. IN anticipation of the release of the Lionsgate film, PRIDE, the International Swimming Hall of Fame has teamed up with with noted swim instructor and historian Lee Pitts to tell the amazing history of African-American Swimmers.
What the story reveals is that contrary to commonly held stereotypes blacks can swim and historically West Africans had a very rich swimming tradition until the slave trade destroyed it. Based on anecdotal tales from the memoirs of slaves and other historical facts, it is highly probable that the slaves imported to America in the early days of the slave trade were much better swimmers than their white owners. For example, the man who was probably the best swimmer on the Lewis and Clark Expedition of Discovery was York, William Clark's Black slave and the only Black on the trip. Another interesting bit of trivia is that the incident that gave us the term "underground railroad" involved a slave escaping from his Kentucy master by swimming across the Ohio River. The fear of swimming as a means of escape lead slave owners to suppress swimming among the slaves and Jim Crow further excised the swimming culture from African Americans. If we want to know why so few African Americans are involved in competitive swimming and all things aquatic today, we have to first understand our history, as told for the first time by Lee Pitts. In this story, Pitts places PRIDE in a proper historical context so that everyone can better appreciate the movie and Jim Ellis.