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No ‘colored’ kids in pool

Courtesy of The Madera County Historical Society

By the 1960s, the silent “Jim Crow” mentality in Madera was assailed by such individuals as the Rev. Naaman Haynes, minister, community activist, and first African-American to serve on Madera Unified’s school board.


Madera’s city owned and operated swimming pool was called “The Plunge” for years, and in the 1940s, it was the scene of considerable strife between the races — actually, it was between two races, black and white.

By 1947, folks were beginning to resist Jim Crow in Madera, and the struggle seemed to center at the Plunge. Some black residents had the temerity to suggest that they had the right to swim at the city pool, long standing tradition notwithstanding, and they had the support of some white folks.

In July 1947, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union laid into the City Council at one of its meetings for allowing segregation to be practiced at the public pool.

African-Americans had never been welcomed at the Plunge, quite the contrary. It had been public policy for over 40 years that they be excluded. The city’s policy of segregation based on race went all the way back to 1916, and the worst of it was, it involved a little kid.

In the summer of that year, a young African-American lad decided to go swimming at the Plunge. We don’t know how he got in, but we do know that when he was discovered, he was told to get out. Apparently he went home and told his parents, and on June 23, a contingent of “Negro citizens” led by one S.T. Waterman appeared before the city council to protest against “discrimination in favor of the white people as regards the use of the Municipal Plunge.”

Waterman pointed out that Blacks paid taxes, were law abiding, and were supposed to have equal rights under the law. The spokesman insisted that they should be permitted to bathe in the pool.

In something of a surprise move, the council agreed. Madera’s black population had every right to swim in the Plunge, but just not at the same time as white residents. Madera Mayor Danielson came up with a proposed solution. He suggested that certain times be set for “colored” children to have exclusive use of the pool. The council agreed, so the Mayor went a step beyond. He offered to make a motion to set a time in which the adult African-Americans could have the pool, too.

This act of “goodwill,” however was rejected. Black adults had no desire to swim in the Plunge. Mr. Waterman said it was enough that the council recognized that African-Americans had the right to swim in the pool (although not with Anglos).

Nodding his assent, Mayor Danielson stated that it had been his intention all along to draw up certain rules and regulations concerning the Plunge. “He advised the little boy not to swim until such rules and regulations had been formulated.”

So, for 30 years, segregation at the city’s pool prevailed. By the 1940s, however, things were changing, and they would change even more in the 1960s as one reader wrote The Madera Tribune, calling the town out for the hypocrisy of many. In a 1964 piece, the reader wrote the following:

“It is disgusting the way Maderans read the news articles about the Negro-White friction in the South and then shake their hypocritical heads in disgust. Even more sickening is the way we pat ourselves on the back for being such humane and tolerant citizens just because we are too hypocritical to show our prejudice in public. Our form of prejudice is worse than any obvious display: ours is a whispered affair. We draw an invisible line between the Negro and White but do not have the guts nor the character to admit it.

“However, prejudice cannot long hide behind the mask of tolerance without raising its scroungy head in full view. A symbol will sooner or later mark the town for what it really is, and indeed Madera has its symbol already on public display. What is this symbol? The Madera Municipal Swimming Pool, that’s what. Or haven’t Maderans noticed that suddenly the pool has become segregated with only Negroes occupying the water?

“Yea, Maderans. We are really to be congratulated on our heroic conduct toward prejudice. Our hypocritical. back-biting, mud-slinging attitude is so impressive that we should at least get a medal for being the Number-One Hypocrites in America.”

— Sincerely,

Douglas Winters


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