In 1941, one of the nicest swimming pools with extra amenities opened in Kansas City, Missouri at Swope Park. The cost was $525,000 which in today's value would be about $10,325,321.43. This pool could accommodate as many as 3,000 swimmers. There were nice dressing rooms and concession stands. To add fun on top of fun, when people were done swimming, they could go over to the Swope Park Zoo.
Unfortunately, at the time, the pool didn't allow African Americans inside. On June 20, 1951, six people couldn't have access to the pool because of the color of their skin. Officials in Kansas City argued that there were other pools for Negroes and that they could go there. On August 2, 1951, a local branch of the NAACP filed a lawsuit on their behalf.
This, they believed, satisfied the Supreme Court's rulings dating back to Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) that segregation was legal as long as equal facilities were maintained for each race. In a courtroom statement, the city representatives further argued that pools in particular required segregation because of 'the natural aversion to physical intimacy inherent in the use of swimming pools by races that do not mingle socially.' (Source.)
During the litigation, the pool was closed for two years. On May 7, 1952, Judge Albert A. Ridge ruled against the city. His ruling was also upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling said that either segregation had to be eliminated or an equal pool had to be constructed for African Americans in Swope Park, the latter of which couldn't occur because of the lack of money. The city closed the pool instead of desegregating it.
Two years before the lawsuit was filed, there were riots in St. Louis when public pools were desegregated there. That might have been another reason the park board in Kansas City wanted to close down the pool that was associated with the lawsuit.
In those riots, as many as 5,000 whites partook in physical assaults and intimidation of the black youths who came to swim. Between 10 and 20 people were injured and it took 400 police officers to restore order. Kansas City's park board accordingly argued that the Swope Park swimming pool had to remain segregated (or closed) to avoid a similar outcome. (Source.)
The Swope Park pool was ultimately reopened to all on June 12, 1954, regardless of skin color. With riot control police in place, there were no incidents and it was a positive step towards racially integrating the city. However, the attendance of white swimmers had allegedly dropped by 60%. The desegregation of the Swope Park pool was a step in the right direction even though it was less controversial than what would continue to happen down the road.
The Swope Park pool today
Today, the 80-year-old swimming pool is closed for the 2022 season due to its age. It is the oldest outdoor pool and because of its age and deterioration, the pool is not safe to operate. Piper-Wind Architects had worked on some of the restorations to the historic pool.
We are in the process of issuing an RFP for a comprehensive and honest evaluation of this and our other aquatics facilities that will provide guidance on future operations, planning and repairs. (Source.)
Thank you for reading.