Thursday, January 12, 2017

Why I'm Marching #3: It Wasn't That Great

I'm a woman of a certain age. Must admit, past my prime. It's all good, though. With age comes wisdom. With age also comes ... age. I've been around the track a few times. Heck, I can even remember when America was "great!"

Here's a little story about that time.

I grew up in that part of the world where Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania are all three only a few miles apart. It's pretty rural out there, and in the 1960's it was definitely a place where people over-respected the Confederacy.

It must have been 1964 or 1965 when the nearest large municipality to my house, Hagerstown, Maryland, was ordered to open the large municipal pool to Black people.

In those days, all the Black people in Hagerstown lived in one neighborhood. That neighborhood had its own "separate but equal" pool. But it wasn't exactly equal. It wasn't even near equal. It was so far from equal you would have had to use a homing pigeon to find equal on the map.

I was a little kid, but I remember the moms in my neighborhood, swearing that they would not take their children to the municipal pool to swim with those "dirty n*****s." Yes, that is exactly what I heard. Middle class White ladies actually thought Black children were literally dirtier than their own kids. Full of diseases and who knew what?

My mother rounded me and my cousin up. She gave us each a quarter. She said, "I'm going to drive you to the pool. And guess what? It won't be nearly as crowded today as it usually is! You'll have a great time!"

Off we went to the pool, which opened at noon. There was always a line of kids waiting to get into the pool the moment it opened on a hot summer day. Sure enough, there was a line that day, too -- almost all Black kids.

I lived in a segregated world. I had never been near a Black person before. (My elementary school principal retired when she heard that "her" school would admit Black students. That was after my time.)

My cousin and I took our place in line, and it was somewhat awkward on everyone's part. But once we got into the pool, lo and behold, Mom was right! There was way more room than usual. No lines at the sliding boards or anything!

You would think that the moral of this story is going to be about equality. And you would be right. There was nothing, and I mean nothing great about America in the 1960's, if you were Black. This was a hostile nation then, bent upon keeping Black people at the rock bottom. I'll be damned if I call that a great time. It was an awful time.

But wait. There's more.

The Hagerstown Municipal Pool had three metal sliding boards with jets of water that shot out from the top, to make them more slippery. There were a few signs that said, "Do Not Go Down Head First" scattered here and there, and if a lifeguard saw you attempting head-first, you would get thrown out for the day. Nevertheless, three or four kids died of broken necks going down those slides. Another kid died falling off the top.

Government regulators shut down the Hagerstown Municipal Pool, I think around 1970, because of the metal slides. The pool did not re-open until it had been rehabbed and brought up to the strict codes of safety that should apply to public swimming pools.

Black Lives Matter. Government regulations matter. Want to see America become "great" again? Turn the clock back to 1962, and break your neck on a sliding board in a swimming pool full of White kids.

7 comments:

Plowing Through Life (Martha) said...

People who never had to deal with discrimination wear giant-sized rose coloured glasses. And define the world according to their experiences. For everyone else, the past totally sucked. I wouldn't go back in time for anything!

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Great post, Anne.

anne marie in philly said...

how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go. RESIST!

e said...

Brilliant post. Spot on. Also, I kind of love your mom!

Debi said...

Once " Grandpa's Government turns to dust" and young people continue their forward thinking, all the world will be a better place. I wish upon a star! Be safe out there! 🙋👍❤️🇨🇦

Jono said...

I grew up over by Wilmington and spent a lot of time in Baltimore and I heard a lot of the same crap. We were heavily segregated, but the few black kids I knew were all awesome. I would not have wanted to be black in the sixties. They were hateful times.

JACKIESUE said...

Mississippi in 1961..it was the most awful place I'd ever been..learned first hand about segregation.