Historic photograph: March 21, 1965, the March from Selma to Montgomery.
The famous US Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery is being reenacted this week, and I was watching the Reverend Al Sharpton (organizer) on television, talking about it. At the same time, I was grieving the loss of my old friend Terri, and I was looking up some of our old haunts in Columbus, Ohio. Much has changed; so much, I often barely recognize the place. (Google Street View is an amazing invention.) I couldn't find Crystal Swim Club, where we spent the majority of our summers. When I last visited Columbus (2006), I had vainly tried to find it, circling and re-circling the neighborhood.
How do you hide two enormous pools like that? Was it smaller than I remembered? WHERE'D IT GO?
And then I found the blog of one Rick Minerd, ex-Chief of Police in Columbus. He wrote an entry on Crystal! (Pause for commercial: THIS is why blogs are so important, folks. We bring you the little-known history of real people and their daily lives.)
And yes, there it was. Had I forgotten?
As I watched the Reverend Sharpton, I was jolted back into reality. White reality.
It was a segregated pool. Like, by design, not by accident.
Well, of course it was. Had I forgotten?
Actually, yes. I had.
Perhaps I had believed that black people just didn't want to be with us. Why would they? White people, I had already noticed as a child, were often pretty nasty to black people, and if I was black, I wouldn't want to be around us either. In fact, the integration of our neighborhood and school was happening at that very same time, and we were all learning (in school anyway), to get along. But we lived on one side of the neighborhood and they lived on another. I didn't question this. I was a child, and it seemed the way of the world.
During the summers, we thought, they go their way and we go ours. It never really occurred to us that this was by design, on purpose.
Below, an excerpt from Minerd's entry on the Crystal Swim Club, which by the way, made me swoon with nostalgia. The description is so dead-on (DOGHOUSES!) that I started sobbing all over again, with memories of my old friend, Pleasant Valley Sunday, and daring each other to jump into the deep end.
Minerd accurately describes how we saved our brave little pennies, all year long:
In the early 1960s it was customary for kids like me to save money year-round for the opportunity to purchase a season membership to the Crystal, a pool in South Columbus located on the corner of Champion Avenue and Markison Avenue. I remember saving change in a jar and occasionally dumping it across my bed and counting it and the euphoria I felt knowing that when the tickets went on sale I would have enough to buy one. That was probably the first lesson my parents taught me in working and saving for what was important.It was that last sentence that jolted me back to reality. Was that really true? Of course it was. I never saw a single black person there, ever. But this did not seem strange to me.
If I remember correctly the season "ticket" cost around ten dollars and a member could take along a pal who was a non-member who would be allowed in for fifty cents provided that pal was a white person.
As one of a minority of white people in the apartment complex I now live in, it suddenly seems so amazing that I didn't notice the whiteness, as I surely would now. But again, I was a child, and I did not question.
And even though the facility has long been gone I can still recall vividly the lay of the land within its fenced off boundaries. Upon arrival following a two mile walk from our home a member would enter on the Champion Avenue side of it and show their ticket to an employee who sat at a window just inside the main entrance. Then proceeding directly to a changing room where street clothing would be placed in metal baskets and handed to a guy at a counter who would give you a coin shaped object with a number on it to track your property for retrieval at the end of the day.I have mentioned the Girls and Boys Swims (in jest) on this blog before. I had forgotten the numbered coins, but I certainly remember the changing-rooms, and how we squealed with excitement as we smelled the chlorine. We changed in a hyperactive blur, shedding street clothes and racing out to the pools, where all of us extremely pale, blonde and redheaded children soaked up deadly levels of UV rays ... and whoever heard of sunscreen in those days?
After changing into swimming trunks and exiting that room you saw what we called the big pool with depths ranging from around three feet at the shallow end to nine at the deep end where there were two diving boards. One just a few feet above the water and a second high dive for bolder swimmers.
Next to that was a smaller pool that we called the new pool and was one that was only five feet deep and usually used more by older members. Near the larger pool was a snack bar that sold potato chips, sodas and candy products and beside it was a small basketball court and a slab of concrete with one wall where some played handball. And scattered around the grassy areas were several multi-colored triangular wooden objects we called dog houses.
They were perfect for sun bathers to sit on a towel on the ground with their backs against it and they served as mini retreats, like camp-sites anytime the life guards would blow the whistles to signal rest periods, usually lasting ten minutes when all swimmers were required to get out of the larger pool. Adults were allowed to remain in the smaller pool during rest periods and I remember thinking during those times as I did often that I wished I were older.
Those of us who remember swimming at the Crystal also remember that it was a private club that operated before there were laws forbidding discrimination based on a person's race. It was a cooling spot for white people only.Minerd mentions the irony that the neighborhood is now predominantly African-American, and the people who now live in the houses on that spot? Are black. (Do they know what was there before?)
However, following the civil rights movement of the mid 1960s it became illegal for businesses and private clubs to exclude people because of their race and instead of changing with the times and permitting non-whites entry into the Crystal Swim Club the owners elected to shut it down. The pools were filled with ashes and discarded debris trucked in from nearby Buckeye Steel Castings Company... like filling them with the cremated remains of a disappearing era.
For a number of years the location was operated by another organization as a private club but one without any sign of what it had been. The earth where those pools once were showed signs of discoloration from what was beneath it and the outlines of where they were was visible for several years but if one didn't know the history of the spot they probably wouldn't have known what it was.
Although it is easy to put down those of us from the past for our resounding racial cluelessness, I have to ask: where are all the public city swimming pools now, for working class kids (of whatever race) to go to? There are few-to-none here (mostly YMCA and YWCA), and from all I have been able to discern, public swimming pools are mostly a thing of the past. Middle-class kids go to pools in their friend's backyards. (I never knew anyone who had an outdoor pool when I was growing up; city yards are notoriously small and there wouldn't have been enough room, even if you had wanted one.) Segregation is not over, it has been taken private and local. If you don't have the money for an expensive membership to the Y, if you don't know someone with an outdoor pool or live in a suburban enclave or apartment complex that provides one for its members, you don't swim.
That leaves out a lot of kids. It certainly would have left ME out.
There may be white people reading this who have never been swimming with minorities, and will believe that they are not like me and my backward childhood. Since segregation isn't an actual written "rule" in a club charter someplace--well, then they believe it really isn't real segregation, even if the results are the same.
But it is.
And so, they paved over the pools rather than open them up to blacks.
And it has pretty much stayed that way, hasn't it?