Civil Rights Tour: Recreation - Anacostia Pool, Swimming for All

1800 Anacostia Drive SE

As summer began in 1949, African American residents of far Northeast and Southeast looked forward to finally having access to a swimming pool on their side of the Anacostia River.

National Capital Parks (NCP), the federal entity that operated six of the city’s eight public pools, announced it would desegregate Anacostia Pool on June 23. But when African American children showed up to swim that day, they were met with threats by a group of white boys who surrounded them and drove them away. 

Similar confrontations over the next few days led to violence.  On June 29, police broke up a crowd at the pool site, making arrests for disorderly conduct and the distribution of anti-segregation flyers. The US Department of the Interior, which oversaw National Capital Parks, closed Anacostia Pool for the rest of the summer. 

Historically, the District’s federal recreation facilities such as golf courses, certain parks, swimming pools, and tennis courts were officially open to everyone, but, by custom, whites claimed four of the federal pools (Anacostia, East Potomac Park, McKinley, Takoma), and relegated just two (Banneker and Francis) to African Americans.  Meanwhile, the DC Recreation Board refused to integrate any of its facilities, including most of the city’s playgrounds and its two whites-only pools (Georgetown and Rosedale). As a result, NCP retained control of its pools rather than transfer them to the DC Board of Recreation as planned.  Anacostia Pool re-opened on a non-segregated basis in 1950.

Because they were barred from public pools, many African American children never learned to swim. Between 1945 and 1948, 29 of 37 school-aged boys who drowned in the city were black.  At Rosedale Playground in Kingman Park, the 1952 drowning of a teenager who had climbed the fence to swim sparked pickets and direct action by residents, leading the DC Department of Recreation to de-segregate Rosedale Pool that fall.