There is so much history in Simone Manuel’s tears the moment she became the first African-American woman to medal in Olympic swimming. African-Americans were prohibited from public swimming pools and many beaches across the country well into 1960s.
A hotel in Las Vegas drained its pool in 1953 after the movie star Dorothy Dandridge dipped her toe in the water. Another pool was drained after the beloved singer/dancer Sammy Davis Jr had swum in it. In 1964, a bystander jumped into a pool at a Florida motel to force out the black swimmers and the manager threw acid in the water during a civil rights protest in St. Augustine. After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of desegregation in Brown v Board of Education in 1954, a Federal judge upheld segregated pools in Baltimore because pools “were more sensitive than schools.”
Barred from swimming pools for generations, African-Americans were then subjected to the myth that they were incapable of swimming. It was a stereotype that was widely held long after the end of formal Jim Crow. In an interview in April 1987, Al Campanis, then a Los Angeles Dodger executive, made some over-the-top comments about African-Americans being unsuited for management positions in professional sports. When ABC’s Ted Koppel gave him a chance to clarify, Campanis went even further:
“Why are black men or black people not good swimmers?” Campanis asked Koppel. “Because they don’t have the buoyancy.” Campanis was ostracized and paid with his career and reputation. But he was voicing a common misconception.
Nearly 30 years after Campanis’ words, Simone Manuel’s Gold medal performance made history by defying it.
— Background on restrictions of public pools by Gene Demby, NPR’s Code Switch: http://www.npr.org/…/41291…/who-gets-to-hang-out-at-the-pool
— Video of 1987 interview of Al Campanis by Ted Koppel: http://youtu.be/O4XUbENGaiY
— Los Angeles Times piece on Al Campanis: http://articles.latimes.com/1987-0…/…/mn-366_1_black-leaders
— The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration: www.thewarmthofothersuns.com