Swimming Pools and Inequality, Sixty Years Later. Putting Things in Context.

If you need any more evidence that we still live in a nation in which bigotry and intolerance, often tinged with the threat of theocracy, is still alive and well, you can find it in this news report.

Two gay men with developmental and intellectual disabilities were kicked out of a public pool in Kentucky.

I was born in Alabama in 1946, and grew up to maturity in the middle of the Civil Rights Era of the 1960’s in Birmingham, Alabama.

I remember well how much fun we as children in the 50’s had. Our parents would take us into North Birmingham (we lived out ‘in the country’ north of the city, it was not yet suburbs at that time), so that we could swim in the city pool at the North Birmingham Park. Those are some of my fondest and most vivid childhood memories of summers growing up in Alabama.

The drive to pass Civil Rights legislation insuring equal accommodations, however, did not sit well with the citizens of Birmingham.

So when they realized they were about to be forced to allow Blacks and Whites to swim in the same pool, they did the obvious.

The closed the city swimming pools. All of them. City wide.

I just looked at North Birmingham Recreation Park, where that pool I remember was, and I cannot even find a trace of it on the ground. The park now has a baseball field, and other athletic field facilities.

That pool is gone with the history of the time.

Activists in Kentucky are planning a peaceful response after two gay men with developmental and intellectual disabilities were kicked out of a public pool.

A maintenance technician reportedly cited the Bible while telling the two men they couldn’t swim at The Pavilion, a government-funded recreational facility in Hazard, Kentucky.

“We own this place and can tell you to leave if we want to,” the couple was told, according to the Kentucky Equality Foundation.

“The Pavilion staff immediately entered the pool area and asked my clients and their staff to leave the Pavilion,” Mending Hearts Executive Director Shirlyn Perkins recalled. “My staff asked The Pavilion staff why they were being asked to leave, and they were informed that ‘gay people’ weren’t allowed to swim there.”

“My staff told this man that what he was trying to do was discrimination. The man stated that what he was doing was in the Bible and he could do it. My staff continued to argue with this man, but was ultimately forced to leave. My clients, whom already feel ridiculed and different, left the city owned facility crying and embarrassed for trying to participate in ‘normal’ activities that everyday ‘normal’ people do,” she added.
Bible cited as reason for kicking gay men out of public pool

Apparently the comprehensiveness claimed by the Hazard Pavilion does not include gays.

The Hazard Pavilion was built in 1988 and is one of the most comprehensive indoor recreation centers in Kentucky.

The Hazard Pavilion

Can someone explain to me how any of this is different from the intolerance and bigotry and discrimination experienced by Black Americans?

Up until the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960’s, states and municipalities across the South had codified their racism into what came to be called the ‘Jim Crow’ laws. These laws depended on the reasoning of the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court Case from 1896. That ruling introduced one of the most infamous phrases in the history of discrimination into language: “Separate but Equal”.

Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896), is a landmark United States Supreme Court decision in the jurisprudence of the United States, upholding the constitutionality of state laws requiring racial segregation in private businesses (particularly railroads), under the doctrine of “separate but equal”.

In a 7 to 1 decision handed down on May 18, 1896 (Justice David Josiah Brewer did not participate),[2] the Court rejected Plessy’s arguments based on the Fourteenth Amendment, seeing no way in which the Louisiana statute violated it. In addition, the majority of the Court rejected the view that the Louisiana law implied any inferiority of blacks, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Instead, it contended that the law separated the two races as a matter of public policy.

When summarizing, Justice Brown declared, “We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.”

Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court Case

By the end of 1961, protests against segregation, job discrimination, and police brutality had erupted from Georgia to Mississippi and from Tennessee to Alabama. Staunch segregationists responded by vowing to defend segregation. The symbol of unyielding resistance to integration was George C. Wallace, a former state judge and a one-time state Golden Gloves featherweight boxing champion. Elected on an extreme segregationist platform, Wallace promised to “stand in the schoolhouse door” and go to jail before permitting integration. At his inauguration in January 1963, Wallace declared: “I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

It was in Birmingham, Alabama, that civil rights activists faced the most determined resistance. A sprawling steel town of 340,000, Birmingham had a long history of racial acrimony. In open defiance of Supreme Court rulings, Birmingham had closed its 38 public playgrounds, 8 swimming pools, and 4 golf courses rather than integrate them. Calling Birmingham “the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States,” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. announced in early 1963 that he would lead demonstrations in the city until demands for fair hiring practices and desegregation were met.

Digital History. America in Ferment: The Tumultuous 1960s. Bombingham. Period: 1960s

Jim Crow was the name of the racial caste system which operated primarily, but not exclusively in southern and border states, between 1877 and the mid-1960s. Jim Crow was more than a series of rigid anti-Black laws. It was a way of life. Under Jim Crow, African Americans were relegated to the status of second class citizens. Jim Crow represented the legitimization of anti-Black racism. Many Christian ministers and theologians taught that Whites were the Chosen people, Blacks were cursed to be servants, and God supported racial segregation.

In Plessy, the Supreme Court stated that so long as state governments provided legal process and legal freedoms for Blacks, equal to those of Whites, they could maintain separate institutions to facilitate these rights. The Court, by a 7-2 vote, upheld the Louisiana law, declaring that racial separation did not necessarily mean an abrogation of equality. In practice, Plessy represented the legitimization of two societies: one White, and advantaged; the other, Black, disadvantaged and despised.

Jim Crow states passed statutes severely regulating social interactions between the races. Jim Crow signs were placed above water fountains, door entrances and exits, and in front of public facilities. There were separate hospitals for Blacks and Whites, separate prisons, separate public and private schools, separate churches, separate cemeteries, separate public restrooms, and separate public accommodations. In most instances, the Black facilities were grossly inferior — generally, older, less-well-kept. In other cases, there were no Black facilities — no Colored public restroom, no public beach, no place to sit or eat. Plessy gave Jim Crow states a legal way to ignore their constitutional obligations to their Black citizens.

What Was Jim Crow?

I well remember from my youth all of this. Separate drinking fountains for Blacks and Whites. I remember Blacks having to use the stairs in office buildings in downtown Birmingham because they were forbidden from using the elevators. And of course there were the segregated buses, with Blacks required to sit in the back, and if seats were short, to yield their seats to any White person who got on board a full bus.

I read this week the findings of a new study on how abysmally ignorant of our American history students are right now.

I would be willing to bet, that if asked who Rosa Parks is, the same massive 75-80% majorities of the ignorant would draw the same blank.

FWIW, Rosa Parks is so emblematic to us that we keep a poster with her photo framed in our house, as a constant reminder of the need to acknowledge what is right above what is wrong, no matter the cost, no matter the personal threat.

I would be willing to bet that the people who run the Hazard Pavilon don’t have that poster hanging around anywhere.

Footnote: I have scrupulously avoided making a Dukes of Hazard reference in this diary, but *&(*&(*& , I just cannot resist. That’s just the kind of guy I am. So there it is.


Author: Ron