During Jim Crow segregation, prevalent in the North as well as in the South, racial integration in public accommodations such as swimming pools was prohibited both by law and, in many more places, by custom. Then, the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 passed, and discrimination on the basis of race in public accommodations such as swimming pools became illegal. Today, almost fifty years later many tend to regard racial discrimination in public accommodations a relic of a bygone era.
Unfortunately, some white folks in Northeast Philadelphia failed to get the message (h/t @netwoman). More than 60 African American kids attending a day camp in Northeast Philadelphia were turned away from a private swim club because of their race. Here’s the story from the local NBC affiliate:
“I heard this lady, she was like, ‘Uh, what are all these black kids doing here?’ She’s like, ‘I’m scared they might do something to my child,'” said camper Dymire Baylor.
The Creative Steps Day Camp paid more than $1900 to The Valley Swim Club. The Valley Swim Club is a private club that advertises open membership. But the campers’ first visit to the pool suggested otherwise.
“When the minority children got in the pool all of the Caucasian children immediately exited the pool,” Horace Gibson, parent of a day camp child, wrote in an email. “The pool attendants came and told the black children that they did not allow minorities in the club and needed the children to leave immediately.”
The next day the club told the camp director that the camp’s membership was being suspended and their money would be refunded. “There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club,” John Duesler, President of The Valley Swim Club said in a statement.
The actions of the white pool owners has caused so much controversy that U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) plans to launch an investigation into the discrimination claim. In a statement today, Specter said:
“The allegations against the swim club as they are reported are extremely disturbing. I am reaching out to the parties involved to ascertain the facts. Racial discrimination has no place in America today.”
It’s a good thing that there are laws in place that prohibit racial discrimination of this sort, and that people were outraged this happened, and that a U.S. Senator is stepping up to investigate and, at least potentially, take some action against these perpetrators of swimming pool racism.
Yet, it’s an appalling fact to realize that nearly fifty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Acts, we are still grapping with the continuing significance of racism in public places. We are, apparently, still at a point where we’re having to investigate people for violating the prohibition against racial discrimination in public accommodations. Think about these kids in Northeast Philly next time you hear someone use the phrase “post-racial.”
Update: If you’d like to tell the people at the exclusionary club what you think of their actions, you can reach them by email here: email@example.com or by phone here:215-947-0700 (h/t @CMcGranahan @harrislacewell).
2nd Update (7/10/09, 8:48amET): The Valley Club in NE Philly denies racism saying the kids were turned away because the pool was “overcrowded.” And, Cullen Jones, Olympic Gold Medalist swimmer and African American, reacts to this incident. Both here (via @BlackInformant).
3rd Update: Adam B at DailyKos has this sharp review of local newpapers and recent events.
UPDATE 4 (JOE):
The Swim Club has backed off, according to CNN:
A suburban Philadelphia swim club has invited children from a largely minority day-care center to come back after a June reversal that fueled allegations of racism against the club, a spokeswoman said Sunday. The development came during a hastily called Sunday afternoon meeting of the Valley Club in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania. Club members voted overwhelmingly to try to work things out with the day-care center, which accused some swim club members of making racist comments to black and Hispanic children contracted to use the pool, said Bernice Duesler, the club director’s wife.
A little public pressure and looks like they may belatedly do the right thing?
UPDATE Thursday, 7/16, 8:37amET: Comments are now closed (read-only, no additional posts). Previous posts that include personal attacks have been deleted. This blog is intended to be a place for civil, adult conversation about issues related to race and racism. While these subjects can become heated when people disagree, it’s possible to have such a conversation without resorting to ad hominem attacks against individuals. We invite you to comment elsewhere on the blog and remain respectful of each other. If you’re unable to do that, we invite you to find a different blog on which to post comments. – Joe & Jessie