When I was a child, one of the best things about summer was going to the pool at the American Legion. It cost $1 to get in, there was a concession stand if you got hungry or thirsty, and it seemed everybody was there.
I can still hear the strains of “Benny and the Jets” playing over the loud speaker. There was always music. If I close my eyes, I can smell the chlorine and the coconut oil we used to all smear on ourselves in search of the perfect tan.
By the way, I never got that perfect tan. I just burned and peeled. And freckled. I always hoped my freckles would run together and I’d have a permanent tan, but no such luck.
I learned to swim at that pool. My mom’s friend ran the pool and was the chief lifeguard. What Miss Paula said, went. Her word was law. If she caught you goofing off, running around the pool or jumping in where you shouldn’t, you got a time out. And you took it. Because Miss Paula said you had to.
I spent many a summer day at that pool. And I loved every minute of it. Until one day when I was about 10.
I was at the pool, as usual, splashing around with my friends, turning a nice shade of “lobster” when I noticed something.
The pool had a chain-link fence around it. I climbed out of the pool to take a turn on the diving board, when I noticed there were three black children standing outside that fence, holding on to it with their fingers, and just pouring sweat. It was a very hot day. They were watching us intently.
I walked over to the diving board, and as I stood at the end of the board, ready to plunge in, I looked around. For the first time, in all those years I’d been going to the pool, I had never noticed – everyone there was white.
When I got home later that day, I asked my father, who was an active member of the Legion, why that was. His answer was basically that it’s just the way the pool is run. “It’s just the way it’s always been,” he said.
I have to say, that turned my stomach. Why should only the white kids get to enjoy the pool? I didn’t understand.
Since then, that pool has closed down. The Recreation Department in my hometown now runs a public pool that is open to anyone who wants to take a dip.
I’ve never forgotten how I felt that day, looking at those three kids. They were no different than me, except for the colors of our skin. And yet a fence separated us.
There’s still a fence separating much of America, particularly in the South.
This month, we’ve focused some articles on a few local people in the black community who have moved past that fence, and are working every day to make a difference in the lives of others and in the community. They have my utmost respect.
It’s time we all followed suit. It’s no secret that racism is still alive and well in the South, and unfortunately, in other parts of the country as well.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.”
It’s time to let the past be the past, and together, move forward. It’s a message we’ve all heard before, but it’s time to put feet to those words.
I don’t want to see any more kids on the other side of that fence.
You may reach Angye Morrison at email@example.com.