Post-Dispatch Investigates: Why Can't Blacks Swim?

click to enlarge Didn't get the memo: U.S. Olympian Cullen Jones.
Didn't get the memo: U.S. Olympian Cullen Jones.
Today's recommended reading comes from the Post-Dispatch, which interviews a St. Louis lifeguard on the perplexing question of the day: "Why can't black people swim?"

The daily's article follows a report out from USA Swimming that found nearly 60 percent of African-American youth cannot swim compared to just around 30 percent of white kids.

So, what did the P-D find out in its research?

Well, for starters, black kids seem disinterested in swimming with Fairgrounds Park lifeguard Joshua Beeks (himself and African-American) observing that few people show up for the city's free swimming lessons.

click to enlarge Stay tuned next week when Post-Dispatch takes on the seminal topic: What is it with gravity and Caucasians!?
Stay tuned next week when Post-Dispatch takes on the seminal topic: What is it with gravity and Caucasians!?
Second, there seems to be some anecdotal evidence that African-Americans fear drowning (a somewhat logical phobia, one would think, for anyone who can't swim). The daily also reports that they may have more "sedentary lifestyles in the family." Er, okay.

Then there's also the issue of hairstyles. Per the P-D:
Beeks also points out that African-American girls -- who swim at even lower rates than boys -- often don't want to get their hair wet. Water tangles it nearly beyond repair and ruins expensive, elaborate hair styles.

"It keep them from having fun, from staying cool on hot days, from having a lifeguard job and from encouraging their own kids to learn how to swim," he said.
A bigger reason, however, maybe the lingering social stigma involved with swimming. As the P-D does mention, blacks were banned from public pools in St. Louis until the late 1940s. When the pools were opened, it triggered a race riot.

Here's the account from now-defunct St. Louis Star-Times on the day day Fairground Park opened its pool to blacks on June 21, 1949.
Shortly before 9 p.m. the crowd spread out in an extended 'company front,' stretching from west to east, and moved on the run northward to Kossuth Avenue as another shout went up that a Negro had been seen near Kossuth....

A reporter who reached the scene almost with the crowd found another Negro being attacked from all sides. He was beaten on a sidewalk leading to a residence in the 3700 block of Kossuth. Pushed, shoved, kicked, struck with clubs, he finally sought refuge on a porch. He was rescued by the police and taken to Homer G. Phillips Hospital.

As police drove off with the man there were numerous expressions of amazement from the crowd that he could live after the punishment he had received. "Why I kicked him twice in the head myself," a 16-year-old boy remarked, incredulously.
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