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The gift, combined with a previous donation of $1 million from Winfrey, is the largest donation to the museum to date.

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Reflections on Swimming Pools and Segregation
Staff member John W. Franklin shares his personal story about encountering racism.

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Reflections on Swimming Pools and Segregation

John W. Franklin


I was born in Washington, D.C. in the early 1950's and moved to New York City when I was four years old. My parents had to face racism in the housing industry in New York when they tried to buy a house and owners would not sell to them, nor would banks lend them the money to buy a house.

We moved from a mixed race neighborhood on Eastern Parkway to Flatbush, both in Brooklyn. The neighborhood was mainly comprised of Italian American Catholics who attended parochial school, Jewish students and a smattering of Protestants.

Most summers I would attend day camp at the Flatbush YMCA. Our swimming excursions would be to Brooklyn’s public pools and the nearby beaches: Rockaway, Far Rockaway, Manhattan, and my favorite, Coney Island. As an African American child I did not yet know how to swim, but enjoyed playing with all kinds of children in the pools and at the beaches. Lifeguards would call us all out of the water whenever sharks would appear where we had been playing.

Every summer my family and I would drive to North Carolina to see my grandparents. During the drive from New York we stopped to eat at the Howard Johnson Restaurants and get our gasoline and use the facilities at Sinclair Gas Stations.

We broke up the trip in Washington, D.C. We would stay with my father’s sister and have breakfast the next morning at my mother's aunt's home. Between those two houses, we would put together a lunch for the road.

As a youngster, I associated crossing the bridge into Virginia and seeing the Iwo Jima Statue as a symbol of the beginning of segregation. After leaving Washington, D.C. no restaurants or service stations were available to us, so we took our food to a friend's home in Petersburg, VA and used their facilities.

At the North Carolina Border was a huge billboard that read: "The Ku Klux Klan welcomes you to North Carolina." As a child I could not really understand why we could not stop at the Stuckey's Restaurants advertised all along the road. Filling stations would accept money for our gas, but not let us use their bathrooms. The drive through Raleigh always took us past a public pool on Wade Avenue with children frolicking, but my father told me: "You are not allowed to swim in that pool! It’s for whites only." Today the road’s still there but that pool's gone.