American Experience: Partners of the Heart
Breakthroughs: Protest and Resistance

Kwame Lillard: video | transcript 1 of 4 next

We were looking for targets. You've got to understand you've got these twenty year olds who can think they can change the world. They need more targets. Get more oppression, more racism to attack.

It was a hot July and me, Freddie, and Doctor Walker's son were sitting in the student center office with nothing to do and we said, "Let's go swimming." And let's go swimming to the biggest, most prestigious, glamorous white swimming pool in Nashville, the ones you can't even -- in a pool, in a park that you can't even drive in except once a year, which is on Christmas. Centennial Park was a park you could drive in once a year when they put the glorious Nativity scenes there. They allowed black folks to drive through it at about 10 miles an hour without stopping. You could view the Nativity scene, the birth of Jesus, once a year for 10 minutes.

So I said, "Let's go to that pool and integrate it."

So we walked to the pool, hot, hot, hot day, with our towels and we knew what they'd tell us as soon as we got there. They said, "You can't swim here." And we said, "No problem. We ain't leaving."

There was an edict sent out by Mayor West within 10 minutes of us arriving at the entrance to pay our 20 cents to swim, to drain that pool. But then, in the way racism works, he couldn't just drain the premier pool in the city and leave all the others because he knew we'd go there. Smart! That's what we were going to do.

So he drained every pool in Nashville. For three years there were no pools for swimming in Nashville. And when they asked us why we did it and did we feel bad about it? We said the only thing we feel bad about was that the fact there were going to be a lot of white kids that were going to get drowned in the rivers and the creeks because of a racist mayor that won't let them swim in pools. And it happened -- it happened just the way we said.

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