The History Of Racial Discrimination In Contested Waters As A Snapshot Of Prevailing Sorrow

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The death of George Floyd and murder charge against one of four police officers caught on camera at the heart of events that have sparked nationwide protests in the United States over racial discrimination and the treatment of minorities by police and society, have prompted African-American swimmers and their teammates to express their feelings and contribute to deeper understanding and a brighter future.

In the news is evidence of previous complaints against Derek Chauvin, the officer due to appear in court today and other officers.

The significance of events tearing at the fabric of American society and dominating headlines even at a time of COVID-19 and the associated risks of mass gatherings to swimmers is not new. With roots in centuries and tales of discrimination that pre-date slavery, pools in the 20th century and narratives of ‘golden eras’ in swimming, were alien places and concepts for many black people around the world.

Woeful history is recalled in several books, key among “Contested Waters” by Jeff Wiltse. If you haven’t read it, do. In 2007, it earned him the Buck Dawson Author’s Award from the International Swimming Hall of Fame. The work and several extracts with related cuttings from history featured in the ISHOF Awards Annual and elsewhere. 

A native of Seattle, Wiltse is an assistant professor of history at the University of Montana, where he lectures on late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century United States history as well as in social and urban history. His doctorate at Brandeis University in 2002 centres on a dissertation, “Contested Waters: A History of Swimming Pools in America”.

In 2003, the work received the 2003 Allan Nevins Prize of the Society of Americans Historians for the “best-written dissertation on a major topic in American history.”

It is a tale of hatred and segregation, the poisonous spirit of which lives with us yet, a story of swimming disparity, drowning disparity, pools apart and racial discrimination.

The book charts the history of swimming pools as racially sensitive flashpoint in the U.S. for generations, as noted in the academic research of Wiltse in “Contested Waters” and the stories of African-American people often denied access to pools in the era of segregation. After that was abolition, white people found other ways to exclude them. In 2014, Wiltse penned an instructive paper painful to read: The Black–White Swimming Disparity in America: A Deadly Legacy of Swimming Pool Discrimination.

A good day to dip into Jeff Wiltse’s work on racial discrimination

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Contested Waters by Jeff Wiltse

Jeff Wiltse’s “Contested Waters” is not only a colorful story of America’s municipal swimming pools of the 19th and 20th centuries but spills well beyond the water in terms of its significance to understanding the social history and development of America.

The book is a crash course in and sweeping panorama of ‘American Life’, what made it shine – and what did not, racism a lasting cancer.

The ISHOF citation read:

“It is, at once, a story of class and race conflicts, burgeoning cities and suburbs, competing visions of social reform, eroticized public culture, democratized leisure, and Americans recent retreat from public life. It will be of interest to movie-goers who want to learn more about the issues raised by Pride, a new film that tells the story of Jim Ellis, an African American schoolteacher who founded a swim team in one of PhiladelphiaÍs roughest neighborhoods in the 1970s.”

Public pools were where “Americans came into intimate and prolonged contact with one another. People who might otherwise come in no closer contact than passing on the street, now waited in line together, undressed next to one another and shared the same water,” writes Wiltse as he describes the flashpoint of pools.

Pools in cities far and wide ranged from the humble bathhouses to majestic clubs with beaches of fine, hauled-in sand, recliners, refreshment, recreation and a place to be and be seen to be. Nakedness being new to a time living within its time a pool was a “sexually charged public space,” says Wiltse, that might set off moral panic. Pools were also safe spaces in that the risks and detritus of open water were kept at bay. Baths were a way of getting the great unwashed washed and, officialdom hoped, might serve to reduce the spread of transmittable diseases.

Wiltse dips deep into the detail of where and in what circumstances blacks were allowed to swim. In the main, they were not allowed – and when they tried, they were shoved out of line, punched, kicked, were pelted with rocks to keep them at bay and had the police set on them. There were even incidents in which black swimmers who were allowed entry to pools found themselves surrounded by white swimmers, then thumped and ducked as drowning experiments lucky to leave the water alive.

It was a time of brutality and discrimination delivered with the threat of life lost. George Floyd’s passing in the circumstances caught on camera suggest that some have not moved on with the times – and those some are part of the system, tainting the uniform of protection for all.

Many pools were built for blacks only and some for lower-class whites. There was civic benevolence in the mix but in the main it was about keeping people apart. Pools for blacks tended to be a tank surrounded by concrete and a wire fence, no sandy stretches and recliners for them.

Some pools were seen as “disease breeders”, their planning and building met with resistance from the ruling classes. Around 1910, two years after the foundation of FINA and in the era of Charles Daniels, a pool was proposed for Central Park in New York. The New York Times quoted the Mayor and his fear that “if it is used by all classes it will become foul”.

Wiltse explained: “Middle-class Americans at the time perceived immigrants, laborers and blacks as equally dirty and prone to carry communicable diseases. As a result, they avoided swimming in the same pool with the working classes no matter their race or ethnicity.”

In 2014, in his paper “The Black–White Swimming Disparity in America: A Deadly Legacy of Swimming Pool Discrimination”, Wiltse poses two questions, gives a comprehensive answer to the first and a rounded answer to the second an asserts:

“This past discrimination casts a long shadow. As a result of limited access to swimming facilities and swim lessons and the unappealing design of most pools earmarked for Blacks, swimming did not become integral to the recreation and sports culture within African American communities. Some Black Americans learned to swim but relatively few.”

The Racial Discrimination Questions In Those Contested Waters:

  • Why are Black Americans less likely to swim than Whites?
  • Why are Black Americans so much more likely to drown?

At the outset of more than 12,000 words of fascinating scholarly detail and depth, Wiltse notes:

“This article does not propose to offer a definitive answer to the second question; that would require a major, well-funded study. Rather, it accepts the general premise that lack of swimming ability contributes to drowning deaths and then attempts to provide a more historically informed answer to the first question—why Black Americans are so much less likely to know how to swim than White Americans. This article contends that past discrimination in the provision of and access to swimming pools is largely responsible for the current swimming disparity and thus indirectly responsible, at least in part, for the current drowning disparity.”

Extracts From “Deadly Legacy”

The questions are raised against this setting described by Wiltse so well:

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Photo Courtesy:

On August 2, 2010, several families gathered for a barbecue picnic along the banks of the Red River outside Shreveport, Louisiana. Upon arriving, some of the kids in the group entered the shallow water near the shoreline. Suddenly, 15-year-old DeKendrix Warner slipped off a ledge into much deeper water. He did not know how to swim and screamed for help. Instinctively, his siblings and cousins rushed out to save him. But they did not know how to swim either. One by one, JaTavious Warner, JaMarcus Warner, Takeitha Warner, Litrelle Stewart, LaDairus Stewart, and Latevin Stewart dropped off into the same deep water. Thrashing their arms, they screamed “help me, help me, somebody please help me.” Their parents watched helplessly from the shore, for none of them could swim either. A short distance away, Christopher Patlan was hanging out with friends and heard the screams. Patlan did know how to swim, having taken lessons as a child. He ran to the scene, plunged out into the water, and grabbed the nearest body, which turned out to be DeKendrix Warner. By the time Patlan had pulled him to safety, the six others had sunk beneath the surface and were drowning. Their bodies were found hours later at the bottom of the river. “Six Teens Drown in La. River: No One Knew How to Swim,” read one newspaper headline (Robertson, 2010; “Six Teens Drown in La. River,” 2010; Stengle, 2010).

The Red River tragedy was widely reported in the news media and focused public attention on the troubling disparity in swimming and drowning rates between Blacks and Whites in the United States. All six teens who drowned were African Americans, and no one among the several families at the picnic knew how to swim. In an effort to explain how that could be, major news outlets such as ABC World News, the BBC, NPR, and CNN highlighted two startling statistics: Black children are half as likely to know how to swim as White children and 3 times more likely to drown.1 And, they posed the obvious questions: Why are Black Americans less likely to swim than Whites? Why are Black Americans so much more likely to drown? (Claiborne & Francis, 2010; James, 2010; Rohrer, 2010; “Six Teens Drown in Shreveport’s Red River,” 2010).

While it took the Red River deaths to bring all this to the public’s attention, these are not new questions. In fact, the perception that Blacks cannot swim is a longstanding racial stereotype. In the past, it was believed that Blacks had inherent physical characteristics that hindered them from swimming. A 1969 study titled “The Negro and Learning to Swim,” for example, concluded that Black men had low capacity for swimming because their bodies were “less buoyant than Caucasians” and their muscles functioned poorly in cold water (Allen & Nickel, 1969, pp. 408-409). More recently, scholars have mostly abandoned genetic and physical explanations for swimming disparities and pointed to social and cultural factors instead.2 In a study funded by USA Swimming, researchers at the University of Memphis concluded that low swimming rates among Black Americans result from the lack of parental encouragement, widespread fear of drowning, concerns about damaging one’s hair, and the perception that swimming is something White people do (Irwin, Irwin, Martin, & Ross, 2010a).

The second question – why Black Americans are more likely to drown than Whites – has not been thoroughly researched. Many scholars and doctors surmise that Black children suffer from comparatively high drowning rates in part because they are less likely to know how to swim, but no published studies have conclusively established the connection. An unpublished article by Samuel L. Myers, Jr. and Ana Cuesta suggests a correlation between the relatively low number of competitive Black swimmers and the high drowning rates among Black Americans generally, but the findings have not been scrutinized by outside reviewers (Myers & Cuesta, 2012). A report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2010 encapsulated the current state of research knowledge this way:

The reasons that black children and teenagers are more likely to drown are not clear, but poor parental swimming skills, lack of early training, poor swimming ability, and lack of lifeguards at motel/hotel pools [where black children swim more commonly] may be important factors. (Weiss, 2010)

The Red River deaths anecdotally corroborate this set of explanations. The six deaths resulted because none of the teens could swim, their parents did not know how to swim and thus could not rescue them, and they were playing in water not supervised by a lifeguard.

Racial Discrimination in the “Swimming Pool Age”

Wiltse paints the canvas of swimming in the earlier part of the 20th century when he observes: “The thousands of public pools opened between 1920 and 1940 popularized swimming in America. They were immensely popular, attracting tens of millions of swimmers each year. In 1937, for example, Philadelphia counted 4.3 million swims in its municipal pools and St. Louis 1.4 million (“1937 Attendance Reports,” 1938). Individual pools amassed astonishing single-day attendance totals. Pittsburgh officials counted 25,000 swimmers and spectators one day in 1932 at Highland Park Pool (“Bathers Flock to Park Pool,” 1932). Packard Park Pool in Warren, Ohio, attracted 2,500 swimmers one Saturday in 1934 and more than 2,000 the following Saturday (“Mercury Here Hits 96,” 1934). In a 1934 article titled “Swimming . . . the New Great American Sport,” Fortune magazine estimated that more than 30 million Americans swam in pools a total of 350 million times each year (pp. 81, 85). A survey conducted by the National Recreation Association in 1933 found that swimming had become, by far, the most popular form of outdoor recreation in the country and that almost as many people swam frequently as went to the movies regularly (National Recreation Association, 1934).

Public pools opened in the years between World Wars I and II underpinned what Wiltse calls “an historic leap forward in swimming proficiency”.

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Contested Waters by Jeff Wiltse

Much depended on the colour of your skin, however. Wiltse notes the relatively good news:

“During the late 1930s, James G. Tyson, an early manager, wrote a brief, unpublished history of Francis Pool, in which he proudly touted the pool’s swimming program. Not only had it spurred a generation of Black Washingtonians to become enthusiastic swimmers, it had also given them, according to Tyson, “a sense of pride that has ever remained” (1939, p. 6). When provided access to appealing pools, swimming could and did become a centerpiece of Black Americans’ summertime recreational life. “

Then he gets to the bad news on racial discrimination: “Unfortunately, Francis and Banneker pools are historical anomalies. They are the exception, not the rule, during the “swimming pool age.” Most Black Americans faced systematic discrimination that severely limited their access to public swimming pools and the swim lessons offered at public pools. This discrimination was a response, in large part, to the gender integration of swimming pools. Most Whites objected to Black men having the opportunity to interact with White women at such intimate public spaces (Wiltse, 2007).

“This discrimination severely limited Black Americans’ opportunities to swim. St. Louis provides a telling example. Between 1913 and 1935, St. Louis opened seven new municipal pools. Two of them—Fairgrounds Park Pool and Marquette Park Pool—were giant leisure resorts, with circular pools measuring several hundred feet in diameter (Bartholomew, 1917). All seven of the pools opened in St. Louis between 1913 and 1935 were for Whites only. Throughout this entire period, the city’s large Black population had no municipal pool in which to swim or take lessons (St. Louis Division of Parks and Recreation, 1935). Finally, in 1936, the city opened a pool for Black residents. Unlike the ones available to Whites, the Jim Crow pool was small and lacked leisure space (1937). Not surprisingly, it attracted comparatively few swimmers. Of the 1.5 million swims recorded at the city’s pools in 1938, only 34,000 occurred at the Jim Crow pool (1939). Black Americans constituted more than 13% of the city’s population at the time (108,000 of 816,000) but accounted for only 2% of the swimmers in its municipal pools (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1943). Blacks in St. Louis were not simply segregated from Whites—they were largely denied the opportunity to swim during this period when swimming first became popularized in the United States.”

The paradox of postwar desegregation

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In 1964, several white and black protesters jumped into a pool at the Monson Motor Lodge in St. Augustine, Fla., in what The New York Times described as a “dive-in.” A white police officer in plain clothes later jumped in to arrest them – Photo Courtesy: Jeff Wiltse, Contested Waters

Wiltse’s paper considers the paradox of postwar desegregation, when water space was allocated to black Americans but the ratios described in “Deadly Legacy” runs  at 1 pool in 20 in some cities. In Baltimore, which boasts Michael Phelps as its most famous swimmer, of the city’s seven pools in 1953, one was allocated to black people – and that one was the worst one, racial discrimination at the heart of  much decision making. As Wiltse’s notes:

The Whites-only facilities were distributed throughout the city and offered large pools, concrete sun decks, and grassy lawns. The city’s only pool for Blacks, by contrast, was “quite small,” according to the Baltimore Department of Recreation, and provided virtually no leisure space (Pangburn & Allen, 1943, p. 97; “Six Outdoor Pools for Whites Only,” 1953). A federal appeals court forced the city to end segregation at its pools starting in 1956 (Dawson v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, 1955). The city obeyed the court order and stopped enforcing official segregation, but Black residents did not gain access to all the city pools. Three pools that had previously been for Whites only (but were located near Black residential neighborhoods) became accessible to Black swimmers: Druid Hill Park Pool no. 1, Clifton Park Pool, and Gwynn’s Falls Park Pool. As a result of having access to these additional pools, Black residents’ use of city pools increased 39% the first summer after desegregation (“1 Druid Hill Park City Pool Closed,” 1956). And yet, just as was the case in Pittsburgh, Blacks in Baltimore still had less access to public pools than did Whites. For many years after 1956, the three pools located within predominately White neighborhoods—Riverside Park, Roosevelt Park, and Patterson Park—remained off-limits to Black swimmers (“Attendance Relatively Small as City’s Public Pools Open,” 1956; “Baltimore Arrests 13 in Racial Dispute,” 1962). In 1963, for example, Floyd Stevens, director of the Clyburn Home for Orphans, brought a group of parentless children to swim at Roosevelt Park Pool. As the group approached, swimmers began to shout, “Nigger, get out of here.” Two of the children—a 10-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl—were Blacks. Stevens let the White orphans enter the pool but took the Black boy and girl back to the orphanage. As a newspaper account of the incident explained, “municipal pools in Baltimore have been declared integrated, but the one visited by the orphans has been used only by whites” (“2 Negro Orphans Jeered Out of Baltimore Pool,” 1963).

Suburban Pools and the Postwar Swimming Boom

The decline of municipal pools during the postwar period did not affect all Americans equally, Wiltse notes. He paints a wonderful picture with the pool “as the center of summertime social life in the nation’s burgeoning suburbs”, then adds the other side of the coin branded with racial discrimination:

… This was a life, however, that few Black Americans could access. For one, few Black Americans lived in suburbs at the time, which meant that most were physically (and financially) cut off from backyard pools and private swim clubs (on the racial composition of postwar suburbs, see Jackson, 1985; Wiese, 2005). But even in cases where Blacks lived in or near suburbs and could afford the cost of membership at a private club, they were still excluded. The Washington, D.C., area had an unusually large Black middle class at the time and therefore provides a useful example of the racial discrimination at suburban swim clubs. The swim clubs located close to downtown Washington, including those in Chevy Chase and Bethesda, passed bylaws when they first opened in the 1950s that explicitly limited membership to White persons (“Chevy Chase Club Explains Stand on Membership,” 1962; “Fairfax Club Affirms Barring of Negro Family,” 1965; “Integration Vote Fails at Bethesda Swim Club,” 1966). Swim clubs further removed from downtown relied, at least initially, on the racial exclusivity of their neighborhood to prevent Black families from joining. One club in suburban Maryland, for example, passed a residency requirement in 1958 mandating that members live within three fourths of a mile of the pool. The club did not receive a membership application from a Black family until 1968. When that first Black family applied, the club rejected its application, and members quickly voted not to allow any Black members. As the club could no longer rely on residential segregation to protect the racial composition of its membership, it now needed an explicit policy (Tillman v. Wheaton-Haven Recreation Association, 1973). Many other swim clubs in suburban Washington similarly passed explicit bylaws in the mid-to-late 1960s that barred Blacks from becoming members (“Club in New Carrollton Excludes Negro Family,” 1968; “Integration Effort Fails at Virginia City Pool,” 1966).

“Giant-Sized Urinals”

Protests in 2020 are because of racial discrimination against black people. Protests in 1966 were against moves to end racial discrimination against black people.

Wiltse notes that “a short burst of municipal-pool building in the late 1960s”, at a time of Don Schollander, Donna de Varona, around the time a young Mark Spitz was preparing for his first Olympic Games and Debbie Meyer was getting set to soar. Public officials “suddenly prioritized providing swimming pools for urban Black Americans”, writes Wiltse.

He explains: “The spark that ignited the pool-building spree was Chicago’s 1966 race riot. The riot began on a hot mid-July day after police attempted to arrest Donald Henry for defiantly opening a fire hydrant located in the heart of the city’s West Side Black belt. As the officers moved to detain Henry, onlookers began throwing rocks at them. Fifteen more police cars quickly rushed to the scene, and the angry crowd greeted them with a barrage of rocks, bottles, and bricks. The fire-hydrant dispute sparked 3 days of intense rioting on Chicago’s West Side. In the end, three people were killed, countless injured, and 300 were arrested. The property damage was extensive (“1500 Troops Go to Area Ready to Shoot,” 1966; “Police Get 12-Hour Duty in Westside Uproar,” 1966).”

He adds:

The 1966 Chicago riot prompted public officials to redress the historically inadequate provision of public pools for Black Americans. During the riot, Martin Luther King, Jr., met with Chicago mayor Richard Daly and advised him that swimming pools would help alleviate some of the tensions that caused the riot. Three days later, the city purchased 10 small, pre-fabricated pools and quickly set them up in the “troubled neighborhoods” (“Guard Patrol Is Cut in Chicago Ghetto,” 1966). Daly then announced a long-range plan to build more than 100 “neighborhood” pools in Chicago (“Goal: A Pool for Every Neighborhood,” 1967). The federal government also became concerned about the lack of swimming pools for urban Blacks.

“Four days after the Chicago riot ended, President Lyndon Johnson announced that federal “anti-poverty” grants would be used to fund swimming pools for “disadvantaged youth” across the country. Within a month, the federal government had disbursed pool money to 40 metropolitan areas, including Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Atlanta (“Program Rushed for Slum Youth,” 1966). Providing summer recreation for urban Blacks had suddenly become a national priority.”

It all sounded like a turning point on racial discrimination. But, writes Wiltse:

“Most of the municipal pools opened during this late-1960s building spree, however, did not provide viable recreation or encourage actual swimming. Overall, 70 of the 84 pools opened in New York, and all but 2 of the 32 pools eventually opened in Chicago were “mini-pools,” measuring only 20 by 40 ft and uniformly 3 ft deep. The pools were usually too crowded for swimming, so youngsters mostly stood in the water splashing. Nor did the mini-pools provide any leisure space. The tanks were surrounded by a narrow concrete perimeter and enclosed by a chain-link fence. Most did not have changing rooms either, so swimmers traveled to the pools in their swimsuits. Children in one New York neighborhood dubbed them “giant-sized urinals” (“32 New Pools to Help Chicago Keep Its Cool,” 1968; “Cool Minipools for the Hot Summer,” 1968; “Lindsay Smiles His Way Through City,” 1971). Such pools were not the type of facilities that would help popularize swimming among Black Americans. Nor did cities typically offer swimming instruction at the mini-pools (Brozan, 1976; “Feelings Vary on Swim Lessons,” 1976).”

Public Pool Closings

On the closure of many municipal pools and a changing landscape of pool ownership, construction and use, Wiltse notes: “To the extent to which Black Americans are over-represented among the urban poor, public pool closings reinforce the longstanding swimming disparity between Blacks and Whites. But the decline of public pools has also created a class-based swimming disparity. In recent times, middle- and upper-class Americans have learned to swim in high proportion to their overall numbers because they have easy access to swimming pools and can afford to pay for swim lessons. Access to swimming pools and swim lessons for poor and working-class Americans is far more variable.”

Racial discrimination does not, of course, always manifest itself directly. Wiltse notes:

“Some are fortunate to live near an affordable pool, which enables them to swim regularly. Many others, however, are not so fortunate. They do not have easy access to an appealing and affordable pool or to swim lessons. As a result, poor and working-class Americans of all racial identities are less likely to know how to swim than middle-and-upper-class Americans (Irwin et al., 2008). Whereas the current racial disparity in swimming and drowning is largely a product of what happened in the past, this class-based disparity is largely a product of what is happening now and will likely widen in the future unless the nation reprioritizes the funding of public swimming pools.”

Conclusion – The deadly legacy of shutting folk out of pools

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Contested Waters by Jeff Wiltse

Wiltse’s “The Black-White Swimming Disparity in America: A Deadly Legacy of Swimming Pool Discrimination” contends that “past discrimination in the provision of and access to swimming pools is largely responsible for this contemporary disparity.”

Back in 2014, Wiltse said:

“There were two times when swimming surged in popularity – at public swimming pools during the 1920s and 1930s and at suburban swim clubs during the 1950s and 1960s. In both cases, large numbers of White Americans had easy access to these pools, whereas racial discrimination severely restricted Black Americans’ access.”

His research into racial discrimination and how that impacted black lives concludes:

“These explanations beg the question why. Why are Black parents less likely to swim and less likely to take their children swimming than White parents? Why are Black Americans more likely to fear water and drowning than Whites? Why is swimming assumed to be a White recreational activity?”

“The history presented in this article provides the answers.

“There were two periods in American history when swimming surged in popularity—during the 1920s and 1930s and again during the 1950s and 1960s. In both periods, the growing number of swimming pools enabled the swimming boom. Large numbers of Whites had easy access to the public pools of the interwar period and the suburban pools of the postwar period, whereas Black Americans did not. The swimming disparity that exists today dates back to these two periods. Some Black Americans learned to swim during the interwar period and postwar period, but a much smaller percentage than Whites. As a result, swimming never became a significant part of Black Americans’ recreation and sport culture as it did for Whites. The swimming disparity thus passed down from one generation to the next. With some exceptions, it never became common for Black families to spend their summers at a swimming pool, as was the case for millions of White families. And, swimming—both as a life-saving skill and competitive sport—has not, in general, been passed down from parents to children within Black families as it has among Whites. This is precisely what the “Constraints Impacting Minority Swimming Participation” study found, but the researchers did not connect these explanations for the current swimming disparity with their historical roots. They dismissed the importance of “swim facility proximity and access,” because they did not look into the past, to the periods in which the swimming disparity was created.”

USA Swimming, through its Foundation and the works of the likes of Cullen Jones and Make A Splash, is in part aimed at reducing drowning rates in minority populations in the United States. Writes Wiltse in Deadly Legacy:

“Current efforts at addressing the race-based swimming disparity—motivated in part by the belief that it is largely responsible for the race-based drowning disparity—deserve much praise. USA Swimming’s “Make a Splash” initiative has raised awareness about both disparities and taught many children to swim. Begun in 2007, the program has granted more than US$2.5 million “to provide free or low cost swimming lessons to children who may not otherwise have a chance.” In total, 1.4 million children have received instruction (“Make a Splash,” 2013). “Make a Splash” will certainly save lives, but history suggests that more is needed to close the swimming and drowning gap between Blacks and Whites and, just as importantly, counteract the growing class-based disparity.”

He concludes: “Rates of swimming increased drastically when Americans had access to desirable pools that caused swimming to become a frequent and popular activity, integral to the social and recreational life of the community. Affordable, accessible, and, most importantly, appealing swimming pools are needed to popularize swimming among Black Americans and expand access for poor and working-class Americans more generally. It worked during the 1920s and 1930s, when public money funded thousands of resort-like outdoor pools …

“It would also work today. The problem, of course, is that many new public pools would cost much more than US$2.5 million dollars and, despite the nation’s phenomenal wealth, Americans are reluctant to fund public recreation. Today is a far cry from the Great Depression, a time when the nation spent lavishly on public swimming pools despite the historic economic hardships.”

 

3 comments

  1. avatar
    Nathan

    I come to this website for swimming news, not the history of racial discrimination in swimming. Stick to swimming news.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      Nathan: look around you, listen to the voices of African-American swimmers relating their experience to their history, one that links all these issues in the way described tremendously well by an ISHOF honoree. If the issues in this feature are not swimming news, I fear you may have missed the entire point and been completely tone deaf to events around you and the voices of world-class swimmers. The other point you may wish to consider is this: there are thousands of articles on this website, at least several posted each day even though, as you may have noticed, there is no ‘swimming’ news in the strictest sense of that word. You can actually select which topics and articles interest you and ignore the ones that don’t, safe in the knowledge that such topics are of great interest to many others.

  2. avatar
    Anonymous

    Swimming is a Life Skill that every
    Human Being should know how to
    do.

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