McKinney, Texas Incident Is Nothing New: The Complicated Legacy Of Public Pools & Racial Discrimination

0 Posted by - January 18, 2021 - LATEST POSTS

On June 18, 1964, black protesters jumped into a whites-only pool at the Monson Motor Lodge in St. Augustine, FL in an effort to combat segregation. The owner of the hotel combated this invasion of the “whites-only” space by people with a darker skin tone by pouring acid into the pool.

Fast Foward to 2015,  on Friday, some residents in a Texas town decided that a number of African-American teenagers had no place in a pool in the 75% white neighborhood.

Police were called after white residents started a confrontation with some African-American guests at a pool party at the McKinney Community Pool. Party Organizers said…

“This lady was saying racial slurs to some friends that came to the cookout. She was saying such things as ‘black effer’ and ‘that’s why you live in Section 8 homes,” Tatiana Rhodes, who says she was attacked by two white women, explained. According to Rhodes, the African-American guests at the party were told by one neighbor to  “go back to your Section 8 home.”

One police officer demonstrated how difficult it is to be black in America. While Texas copsbasically had a tea party with white bikers who engaged in a gang war that left nine people dead, McKinney Officer Eric Casebolt decided to go “full Rambo” on the crowd of unarmed African-Americans.

At their inception, communal swimming pools were public, egalitarian spaces. Most early public pools in America aimed more for hygiene than relaxation, open on alternate days to men and women. In the North, at least, they served bathers without regard for race. But in the 1920s, as public swimming pools proliferated, they became sites of leisure and recreation. Alarmed at the sight of women and men of different races swimming together, public officials moved to impose rigid segregation.As African Americans fought for desegregation in the 1950s, public pools became frequent battlefields. In Marshall, Texas, for example, in 1957, a young man backed by the NAACP sued to force the integration of a brand-new swimming pool. When the judge made it clear the city would lose, citizens voted 1,758-89 to have the city sell all of its recreational facilities rather than integrate them. The pool was sold to a local Lions’ Club, which was able to operate it as a whites-only private facility.The decisions of other communities were rarely so transparent, but the trend was unmistakable. Before 1950, Americans went swimming as often as they went to the movies, but they did so in public pools. There were relatively few club pools, and private pools were markers of extraordinary wealth. Over the next half-century, though, the number of private in-ground pools increased from roughly 2,500 to more than four million. The declining cost of pool construction, improved technology, and suburbanization all played important roles. But then, so did desegregation. As historian Jeff Wiltse argues in his 2007 book, Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America:

Although many whites abandoned desegregated public pools, most did not stop swimming. Instead, they built private pools, both club and residential, and swam in them …. Suburbanites organized private club pools rather than fund public pools because club pools enabled them to control the class and racial composition of swimmers, whereas public pools did not.

Today, that complicated legacy persists across the United States. The public pools of mid-century—with their sandy beaches, manicured lawns, and well-tended facilities—are vanishingly rare. Those sorts of amenities are now generally found behind closed gates, funded by club fees or homeowners’ dues, and not by tax dollars. And they are open to those who can afford to live in such subdivisions, but not to their neighbors just down the road.

 Whatever took place in McKinney on Friday, it occurred against this backdrop of the privatization of once-public facilities, giving residents the expectation of control over who sunbathes or doggie-paddles alongside them. Even if some of the teens were residents, and others possessed valid guest passes, as some insisted they did, the presence of “multiple juveniles…who do not live in the area” clearly triggered alarm.


1 Comment

  • Joseph Cooper January 18, 2021 - 4:26 pm

    There is something wrong with white people.