DC Swimming Integration: 1949-54
A fight between African American and white youths at the Anacostia swimming pool June 29, 1949 set off a chain of events that led to the integration of DC swimming pools five years later.

Members of the local Progressive Party youth group organized the initial attempt in June 1949 after the Interior Department took the position that it operated integrated facilities.

Government Services, Inc. operated the pool, along with five others, under contract with the Interior Department that prohibited segregation by policy. However, the Anacostia, Takoma, McKinley and East Potomac pools had long been a whites-only. African Americans had used the Banneker and Francis pools.

A report from the local chapter of the American Red Cross showed that 29 of 37 children who drowned in the period 1945-48 were African American swimming in the unsupervised waters of the Anacostia River or Kingman Lake. There was not a single supervised swimming facility east of North Capital Street that African American children could normally go.

The youth affiliate of the Progressive Party, the Young Progressives, decided to challenge the practice and began organizing integrated groups of youths to swim in the Anacostia and McKinley pools.

The Progressive Party was a third party that ran Henry Wallace for president in 1948 on a pro-labor, pro-civil rights and anti-Cold War platform and received about 1.1 million votes.

Direct Action

The first youths tried to test the waters at Anacostia on June 23rd but were run out by white youths before they were able to enter the water. The following day more than 50 African Americans entered the pool and on June 25th 50-60 also entered the pool and swam.

By Sunday June 26 a crowd of about 1,000 white youths was waiting. The first two African Americans, both 14, were surrounded by about 50 white youths who splashed and drove them out of the pool while the rest of the crowd taunted the would be swimmers. Another five African American youths who arrived later were similarly driven away.

On June 28 another incident occurred similar to the previous ones.

The biggest confrontation took place June 29th when 10 white and 10 black members and supporters of the Young Progressives entered the pool. Later, about 70 African Americans arrived and entered the pool area while about 100 waiting white opponents began a scuffle. Scattered fighting broke out both inside and outside the facility between the groups.

A white woman was chased by about 50 white youths who believed she was a “Wallacite” One in the crowd yelled, “Go back to Russia, you dirty red.”

An African American boy was corned by a white mob and sustained cuts when he attempted to climb over a barbed wire fence. Fighting continued between the two groups outside the pool area while the numbers of participants grew to about 1,000.

Two white students distributing Young Progressive handbills in favor of integration were arrested along with two African Americans who were alleged to be fighting with whites. One white youth was arrested for fighting with one of the white Young Progressives distributing handbills.

Several others among the Progressives were injured, including one African American hit in the head with a stone and a white woman trampled by a police horse.

Pool Closed

The pool was temporarily closed as result of the clashes. The Interior Department had been scheduled to transfer the six pools to the District’s recreation department, but held off because DC insisted on segregating pools by race.

The recreation department ultimately adopted a “gradualization” policy where parks, swimming pools, golf courses and other facilities under its control would be slowly converted to integrated facilities over a period of years. The six pools operated by the Interior Department continued to be open to all.

When a 14-year-old African American boy died after swimming after hours in the segregated Rosedale pool at 17th & Gales Streets NE in June 1952, Consolidated joined other groups in picketing the playground and the board of recreation that culminated in a number of arrests.

In September, over 100 children climbed over the fence of the whites-only pool and entered the swimming area. The recreation staff closed the pool, but the following day the children returned and by shear numbers integrated the pool. One police officer said, “I can’t arrest these children. They’re having such a good time.”

The Rosedale pool closed for the season shortly afterward and the recreation board opened the Rosedale playground to all. Before the pool opened in the spring, they voted to integrate the pool as well.

As lawsuits piled up, the District decided to integrate all of its facilities on May 19, 1954 in the wake of the Bolling v. Sharpe school decision. By that time, there were still 88 of 125 DC parks or facilities still segregated. This included the Georgetown pool at 34th & Volta Place NW—the last public pool to be integrated in the District. The Supreme Court outlawed public park segregation nationwide in 1958.
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