The Transformation of America's Pools into a Civil Rights Battleground
Lee, Alexander H.
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Throughout American history, segregation was present in many different facets of American life, whether in political offices, workplaces, or public places such as restaurants, movie theatres, and even public transportation. However, one of the more prominent places of segregation was in public recreation, specifically public and municipal swimming pools. When Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond declared to his fellow party members at their convention in 1948, "I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there's not enough troops in the army to force the southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our theatres, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches," he was referencing public and private spaces that were historically segregated and that he intended to remain that way. However, his speech also had an ulterior motive. Thurmond positioned the public swimming pools as a major battleground in the Civil Rights battle, one that was not just of a high priority to Dixiecrats, but also gave the pro-civil rights groups a rallying point to fight for. Due to there being no official laws against segregation, African Americans were often met with angry and sometimes violent crowds of white people when trying to use a public pool. These factors set the stage for these battles with the African Americans on one side, the whites on the other side, and the public swimming pools as the battleground in the fight for desegregation. As each pool was a battlefield, this paper investigates how much the fight for civil rights at public swimming pools factored into the whole of the Civil Rights movement, how much each battleground was covered, and how the desegregation of public swimming pools affected the rest of the Civil Rights movement. In order to do this, the author investigated different swimming pools across the country that experienced segregation and the subsequent fights to desegregate that came from the local black communities and organizations. Most of these battles were fought not with violence, but with local grassroot campaigns and movements that soon evolved into bigger movements to desegregate the pools. The successful movements to desegregate pools also had many consequences as well. This paper seeks to find out what these consequences were and how they also tie into the greater movements in the fight for equal rights through the means of the battleground that is the pools.