the Fairgrounds Park race riot of 1949 was acknowledged. The riot
erupted when the City of St. Louis attempted to integrate the pool.
For the occasion of the 60th anniversary, I interviewed civil rights
activist Robert Gammon, one of the black kids who got the word that
they could swim in the once segregated Fairground pool.
For years, African-American youth have
passed the pool as they crossed the racial neighborhood boundaries.
Occasionally, they would stop and watch the white kids - splashing,
laughing - and wished they could take a dip in the coveted pool.
Gammon vividly remembers the day he
and his buddies heard on the radio that the City had desegregated
the pool and invited African-Americans to the public facility. Several
unsuspecting black youth, trying to escape the summer heat, walked
into what appeared in retrospect to be a racist ambush.
By the time Gammon and others finished
their swim session, the pool was surrounded by a mob of angry whites.
A white custodian corralled the black youth in a corner while their
lockers were inspected to make sure they did not have any weapons.
Once the inspection was complete and it was absolutely clear that
the youth were unarmed, the police led them through a roped off
path from the pool to the main street.
Along the way, the mob of men, women
and children armed with bats, knives, bricks and clubs shouted racist
epithets, threw objects and even spat at them. When the kids reached
the main street, white city cops told the terrified youth they were
now on their own. Gammon and his friends ran like the wind, unsuccessfully
dodging some of the flying rocks and sticks being hurled at them
from a violent crowd who dared them to return. The boys didn’t stop
running until they crossed the boundaries into the black neighborhood
and their safety was assured.
All hell broke loose as white mobs paraded
through Fairgrounds Park attacking black folks. It took nearly 400
police to quell the riots that day; sporadic attacks took place
for several days thereafter. There was nothing “Fair” about the
grounds on that day.
of condemning the racist incident, the
mayor at the time immediately put a clamp on integration and closed
Fairground Park pool. Although a federal judge ordered the pool
to be integrated, by 1956 the pool was closed permanently because
of a white boycott. Blacks were never allowed to swim in that
pool ever again. A new pool was built on the same park grounds
and opened to the growing black community around Fairground Park.
White folks would rather destroy the pool than have blacks swim
in it. A point scored for white supremacy.
That was then and this is now. Racial
progress has evolved, right? My interview had barely seen the light
of day before the news of Valley Swim Club’s blatant poolside racism
hit the airwaves and internet.
The Creative Steps Day Camp in Philly
had contracted to use the pool during the summer for their mainly
African American youth. When the excited black and brown kids showed
up, there were greeted with a wave of racist hostility.
The youth were hurried out of the pool and told by
attendants that minorities were not allowed. The traumatizing experience
was punctuated by remarks from the club president, John Duesler
in a statement: “There was concern that a lot of kids would change
the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club.” More points for
Valley Swim Club must be put in the context of the white backlash
since President Obama took office. Contrary to the pronouncement
that the country would go “post-racial” with the first president
of color, black folks have been catching hell on the job, in prisons,
in the malls and even in our homes as scholar Dr. Henry Louis Gates
found out the hard way. The Harvard professor was shackled like
a serial killer and hauled off to jail for allegedly breaking into
his own home.
it is Jim Crow or James Crowism III, racism and its ugly manifestations
must be checked whenever it raises its head. Those of us who understand
the structure and purpose of racism must ratchet up the struggle.
children must be taught how to recognize its many faces and facets
so they aren’t beat down with the institutional stick and made to
believe they are somehow unworthy of their human rights. Tyler Perry
is sending the youth from the Creative Step to Disney World to “show
them that they are just as good as anyone.” People of color - even
children - who face 21st Century forms of racism must be given the
tools they need to navigate through this society. Along the way,
they must contribute to the dismantling of racism. No more points
Board member Jamala Rogers is the leader of the Organization for Black Struggle
in St. Louis and the Black Radical Congress National Organizer. Click
here to contact Ms. Rogers.