Friday, March 9, 2012

Segregation begins at home

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.

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.
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.

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.

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.
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?
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.

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.
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?)

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?

11 comments:

JoJo said...

I never really thought of Ohio has having segregation b/c I think of it as a northern state. Of course I'm too young to remember any of it, b/c I was born in 1964. What fascinating history of that pool though. Now I am wondering if there was segregation in Massachusetts? I know busing was a HUGE controversy in the 1970s...

Consigliere said...

OMG JoJo...YES! There were HUGE race riots over bussing in Boston in the 1970s and 80's. Check it out here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_busing_crisis

There is a TON of stuff to talk about here. First of all, I used to go to the municipal pool in East Point GA as a child. Absolutely LOVED it. We had a blast. Ice cream was like a nickle, and cokes too. I spent a lot of time at the pool in the summers. Like you I didn't take much notice of the lack of Black folks at the pool. No Black folks lived in my neighborhood, went to my school...I was in a private school because my mother taught there...went to my church, belonged to my Boy Scout Troop etc. In fact I didn't have any regular exposure to Black folks until we moved to Venezuela.

I've promised Nancy that we would go for a walk after Martha went to bed, so I'm going to go enjoy my wife for a bit, then come back to comment. As I said, there is a LOT here to talk about.

Last comment for now. Southerners are amongst the last people it's OK to make fun of. Southerners, fat people, and poor people...and if you're a poor fat southerner....well, you're a walking talking joke. What's my point? It's BECAUSE of our racism. Not just our racist past, but our racist present too. BUT...here's the dirty little secret. The rest of the nation is JUST as racist, but don't know, or won't admit, that it was, and IS there.

Jon said...

I grew up swimming in a lovely public pool in New Jersey. My mom grew up in that same town. She told me that when she was a girl Black people were allowed to use the pool on Tuesdays only, after which the pool was drained and refilled. Several years after that I learned that town also had an annual Ku Klux Klan day parade all through the '20's. If you're thinking that this sort of thing only happened in the south you should know that this all took place about 20 miles from New York City.

Consigliere said...

Well, that was a pleasant walk. We've had almost no winter this year, but the air was crisp and cold tonight.

When we lived in Venezuela we all were members of one club or another...and by "we all" I mean all we American, British, German, Spanish, French and Dutch people, and members of Venezuela's upper crust and armed forces. My family belonged to the Caracas Theater Club, but there were tennis clubs,horse clubs, and golf clubs of course. All of them had pools. People of all races swam in the same pools. Seemed normal too.

When we moved back to the states we lived in a small north Georgia town. We were only there briefly, and I don't remember a pool at all, except at the local motel.

We then moved to St Simons Island off the GA coast. There may have been municipal pools, but I don't remember them. We all went to the beach pretty much, and there were a lot of hotels etc with pools.

I don't remember any municipal pools in Asheville, Athens GA, Madison GA, but when we moved to Fort Mill SC we found out that there HAD been municipal pools. One was in the city park in the Black part of town, while the other was in the White part of town. When racial integration was implemented the city had BOTH pools filled with sand, and they both sit to this day filled with sand, a testament to our ongoing racism. I am certain this story happened over and over again all across this nation, even in "liberal" areas.

Jello Biafra sings "Love me, I'm a Liberal"

Gonna see if the link worked, read a bit more, and make another comment or two..try to stop me!

Consigliere said...

I also think you are so right about blogs serving the purpose of recording real history of real people. We no longer write ten page letters home to our loved ones which they cherished and preserved, leaving a record for future people to read. I fear a lot of real people's history has been lost in the in between time, after writing was common and before the Internet. Stuff like the underground press was sometimes lost, or at least portions of it. I need to find a university somewhere to archive old Citizens Party stuff from back in the 1980s for example.

Rick Minerd's blog is really quite good. While he does write with what I would call a white man's perspective, at least it's a working class perspective...and like me, we are white men. I guess what I'm saying is he doesn't seem to say that while his memories of the early 1960s are idyllic, I am not sure they would be seen the same way by a Navajo, a Puerto Rican, Polynesian Hawai'ian or a Black in Montgomery Alabama...BUT, some things were common to all, including some he pointed to. While I don't know that First Americans have ever been able to just walk in and get a decent job for example, I do like to believe that all these different communities did share a common sense of community within their communities. Neighbors did mean something at one time, and I think it meant something in all neighborhoods. I do know that in my own neighborhood today there are folks who will not respond to a "hello" as we walk by, and we've lived here for three + years.

I remember those baskets you put your clothes in and the token you got to get them back after swimming....

Today there is no part of Fort Mill where the races are not mixed to some degree. For one thing, there are a lot of white grand parents with Black grand children, and laws which outlawed discrimination in lending and housing made it possible for literally anyone with the income and down payment to buy a home wherever they wanted to. OK...maybe not just like that...they get screwed on the interest rate or size of the down payment etc some times, but you get my point.

OK...not my blog...time to shut up. I promise my comments will be much shorter and less frequent. :-)

DaisyDeadhead said...

Gregg, great comments! I'd love to hear about the "pool histories" out west, and if they similarly excluded Latinos and Native Americans.

West said...

Yep, those Democrats support segregation, and they weren't giving it up without a fight. Then Margaret turned loose her abortion on the Afro Population. Boy, those Democrats were determined, it is a wonder any of the Afro-Americans are left...
This was a good read. Very well thought out post Daisy.

John Powers said...

This is what blogs are for!

A bit off topic: I went to the symphony today where Andre Previn conducted a premiere of a new composition. He walked painfully with a cane and conducted from an armchair. It was shock because the image of him in my mind is stuck somewhere in the 70's.

I went to Youtube to watch him conduct in the 70's. Immediately I noticed how few women there were in the orchestra then!

I take my elderly Dad to the YMCA to exercise and read in the lobby when he does. The other day a tall, slender Black women in a track suit walked by. On the back of her jacket was "Swimming Instructor."

That made me smile because there were so many battles fought over segregated pools.

Nothing is alright now, but we can see glimmers that a better world is possible.

white rabbit said...

A genuine enquiry because I don't know the answer but have often wondered the question. To what extent is segregation still in operation by custom and consent? I get the impression from a distance that there remains much de facto segregation in the USA enforced by acceptance and self policing.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Ohhh a LOT, WR, a LOT, its just that its all "custom" now, as you say, and a result of the economic divide. This means minorities are poorer and use the public facilities (libraries, parks) since they are free, so the whites avoid places like that and move to suburbs and behind gated communities, where they can once again go to the parks and libraries.

Understand, the USA has states that are almost all white. The South is a battleground because of the high concentrations of African Americans; the West due to high concentrations of Latinos and Native Americans. Notice in very white areas, whites can be liberal without any serious "integration consequences"--whereas in highly-integrated areas, earmarking money for public facilities is seen as "giving into minorities" who (often) vote Democratic.

I hope I am making sense, I don't know what the British know and what they don't! British readers, jump in if I am sounding too wonky.

The battleground level/critical mass starts at about 30%--when you get that high of a percentage of minorities, people get antsy. (and that is why southerners don't appreciate white northerners preaching to them... they have small percentages ... when they DO get the large percentages, as in some of the big cities, i.e. South Boston and busing, etc, then they start having as many problems as the South does.)

Here is a good mapHere is a good map, about the distribution of the African American population. Check out SC, Mississippi, then look at the education levels of those states, and you will see the cost of segregation.

Also, you see how white some states are, and how amusing it is that they think they have a clue.

sheila said...

I remember little of it in Ohio in the 70's (was born in 65). Although I knew it was there, it wasn't like it had been the decade prior. This post makes me very sad. Sad for humanity.

p.s. have some catching up to do here I see! LOVE your new comment system!