Segregated Summers, 1958

I recalled some childhood memories after reading the articles about Fanny Chapman Pool. One piece appeared in the PATCH on July 21 (“Fanny Chapman Pool marks 95th anniversary”) and then again in the Bucks County Herald on July 25 (“At Age 95 Chapman Pool Still One Of The Coolest Places In Doylestown”). Fanny Chapman is where I learned how to swim and gathered the nerve to dive off the high board.

We were “Colored people” living in Doylestown yet had been denied the privilege of swimming at the pool. The reason our father explained, was because the water would become “dirty”. My days of summer in Doylestown had consisted of hanging out at the playground, hitting a tennis ball against our tennis court’s back stop or sitting on the porch with a book, pausing in envy whenever a group of kiddos walked past our house, carrying their bathing suits rolled up in a towel, either on their way to or coming from the pool. 

My cousin Nancy Nelson, was also aware of our denial to swim at the pool. Her father Randall Nelson, the owner of Nelson’s Barber Shop on State Street was active in the Doylestown community. After the pool’s deed of trust dissolved in 1956 and ownership was transferred to Doylestown Borough, Randall Nelson approached the Council and asked the pool open its membership to people of color. In the summer of 1958, I was 12 years old and along with my sister and cousins, for the first time could jump in the shallow end of Fanny Chapman Pool.

Search Segregated Swimming Pools and dozens of articles pop up. The long history of denying people of color the privilege of swimming in a pool still continues in places across America. There was one incident when water from a pool was emptied after Black people were removed from a pool. A book published in 2010 by Jeff Wiltse, an Associate Professor of History at University of Montana-Missoula: Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America, examines how attitudes toward race, class, gender and community are factors in segregated swimming pools.

A July 12, 2021 ABC-5 Cleveland television article by DaLaun Dillard noted that drowning statistics are 64% for Blacks as compared to 40% to whites. The ages of 5 to 9 and 10 to 14 are most vulnerable. If a child hasn’t learned how to swim then ponds, streams, lakes or ocean beaches are the waters that bring death on hot summer days.

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