In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as in other northern cities, the campaign to desegregate swimming was a protracted drama of victories in court, pool owners’ evasion of state civil rights law, and white flight from integrated facilities. In 1960, Lancaster progressives filed lawsuits against three privately owned pools that were open to the public on a daily basis but did not allow African Americans. Such exclusion was a violation of Pennsylvania’s Equal Rights Act of 1939, which forbade discrimination in public accommodations (or facilities open to the public) based on race, creed, or color. In Lancaster, when the courts sided with African American patrons, the pools quickly shifted from open-access to members-only policies to evade state civil rights law. The city and county responded to the privatization of the three pools by building publically funded pools in 1966 and 1967. Lancaster’s new, high-quality pools, located in parks, were different from most of the other pools built during this “municipal pool renaissance” in which cities built pools—usually shallow and small—in blighted neighborhoods as a strategy for calming urban violence in the second half of the 1960s. The Lancaster case confirms northern ambivalence about civil rights and uncovers one community’s struggle to build and define public swimming pools.

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