Simone Manuel’s Olympic gold is also a victory over swimming’s racist history -vox.com
Thursday night, Simone Manuel made history when she became first black woman in Olympic history to earn an individual swimming gold medal and the first African-American woman to win an individual medal.
The groundbreaking win, in which Manuel shared the podium with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak after a tie, would be worth celebrating in the context of any sport. But the particular racist history of American swimming pools — and resulting lack of opportunity for black swimmers for decades — makes it an even more poignant victory.
swimming pools have always been spaces where social inequalities have played out. And as the University of Montana history professor Jeff Wiltse wrote for the Washington Post last year, the nation’s swimming pool history is intimately tied to racism.
When the first public pools were established in America’s northern cities at the turn of the 20th century, class prejudices fueled decisions of where municipal pools were built to keep out poor and working-class people, regardless of race. In the 1920s and ’30s, when pools were larger and men and women began swimming together, some major Northern cities used racial segregation tactics to prevent interactions between black men and white women.
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