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The Black–White Swimming Disparity in America: A Deadly Legacy of Swimming Pool Discrimination

This article offers a historically informed answer to the question why are Black Americans less likely to know how to swim than Whites. It contends that past discrimination in the provision of and access to swimming pools is largely responsible for this contemporary disparity. There were two times when swimming surged in popularity—at public swimming pools during the 1920s and 1930s and at suburban swim clubs during the 1950s and 1960s. In both cases, large numbers of White Americans had easy access to these pools, whereas racial discrimination severely restricted Black Americans’ access. As a result, swimming never became integral to Black Americans’ recreation and sports culture and was not passed down from generation to generation as commonly occurred with Whites.