Editorial

The East End Swimming Pool Issue (Part 3) – Traitor!

The East End Swimming Pool Issue

Traitor!

At the same time, the city would see the formation of a new group called the, “Colored Citizens Community League”, who claimed to agree with the ban, consequently exposing a split in the Black community.

A small article printed in the Friday August 8 edition of the Edmonton Bulletin reported that: “The Colored Citizens Community League “is ready to cooperate with the city in persuading the colored citizens from refraining to use the swimming pools, in the interests of municipal harmony.” The spokesperson for the new group I. Goldon— described as a “prominent member of the colored community”, along with several members of the new league: “waited on Mayor Blatchford”, and “expressed their willingness to aid in bringing about an amicable settlement of the question”.

The powers that be must have breathed a deep sigh of relief, but the relief was short lived with a retraction issued four days later. On September 12, the newspaper reports that, “The Colored Citizens Community League is taking a neutral stand” on the pool issue. Mr. Goldon “was wrongly interpreted by the mayor…,” that the delegation supported the ban, and that, Mr. Goldon was speaking on his own behalf.

There things would stand until August 27 when sunny skies and warmer temperatures would entice patrons back to the city pools. According to the Edmonton Bulletin business was brisk at the West End (Oliver) swimming pool that afternoon. The pool was full, and dressing rooms busy with patrons eager to cool off in the inviting waters. That was until “Two Negroes presented themselves…, and after taking the necessary shower baths plunged into the water.”, as reported in the next morning’s newspaper—where headlines shout out, “Whites leave bathing Pool”. Even if anticipating the white people’s reaction, I’m sure the two were mortified when, “several white persons swimming in the pool… immediately left as did a number of other whites… that had, “refrained from disrobing when they saw the colored people preparing to enter the water.

It’s my opinion that Mrs. Poston’s committee chose this day to “force an issue” on the swimming pool ban. They likely believed that with so much opposition coming from the white community surrounding the East End (Bordon Park) pool—where much of the Black population also lived—there was a bigger potential for violence. I believe the group chose the West End (Oliver) Pool as a safer and easier target. If that was the case Mrs. Poston’s committee was successful. At the next City Council meeting held September 8 the, “Swimming Pool Question”, was the main topic of discussion once again. The assembled crowd consisted of the city aldermen as well as Mrs. Poston’s group (who opposed the ban), and the Colored Citizens Community League who supported it.

“Black citizens should be content with the wide sense of citizenship allowed them in Edmonton and not try and force the issue…”

The Edmonton Bulletin reported the session began by hearing from the Colored Citizens Community League’s new President, Hiram Stewart, a small businessman who owned an “ice cream store”, near the downtown area. Stewart acknowledged that Black citizens “had by law the right” to use the pools “on equal footing with their white brothers”, but forcing the issue “would not achieve any real object.” He then parroted the Edmonton Exhibition Associations belief that that if Blacks continued “to insist in their rights” the pools were in danger of losing money and, “could only be operated at a considerable loss.” He closes his address by stating the Colored Citizens Community League was willing to “allow the matter to stand over until there are sufficient of us to support a separate pool”.

One can only speculate as to Stewart’s motivation for the complete reversal on the neutral position the league had purported to hold. But as a small business owner who depended on the city for a business license and other services, he may have been heeding the subtle threat uttered by Alderman Adair at the Exhibition Association’s August 7 meeting—that Black citizens, “should be content with the wide sense of citizenship allowed them in Edmonton and not try and force the issue…”

Certainly Mrs. Poston’s group were unhappy with the turn-coat organization, and no doubt words containing “Uncle” were be being uttered by her furious supporters. Her husband; nonetheless, repeated their committee’s position that “they had not receded in the stand. . .” that the pools must be integrated. Mrs. Poston herself was much more “emphatic” as politely reported in the Bulletin. Of course her position: “stood just as it did when city council passed the order allowing colored citizens to use the pools on equal footing with the white population, and they would insist in the recognition of their rights.”

Spokesmen for City Council agreed that the Black population had the same rights as other tax paying citizens to patronize the public pools. But unable to work out a solution they decided the “season was so far advanced” they would review the controversy at a future date “as any further discussion would only tend to project a race war.”

Meanwhile serious infighting amongst members of the Colored Citizens Community League caused several meetings to become so unruly, city police had to be called in to quiet the commotion.

At one such meeting held September 26 President Hiram Stewart was told by member Jim Taylor that “I personally and individually will chew his ears off” while member G. A Jackson “threatened Stewart with a fist” and said “I would like to bash your brains out, and scatter them on the floor.” The two were subsequently charged with uttering threats. Their October 9 trial would see Taylor pay a fifty dollar peace bond while Jackson is acquitted. Just over a week later a public statement was issued by the Colored Citizens Community League which demanded Stewart’s resignation, claiming that he had misrepresented the league on the pool issue that previous September. With that, it appears the “Swimming Pool Question” died a slow death over the winter, with no mention of the controversy in the summer of 1925.

Today as Black Canadians, and citizens of Edmonton, we can applaud the courage of Mrs. Poston and her group for standing firm in the face of tremendous opposition. By demanding and obtaining equal rights for Edmonton’s Black residents to patronize Edmonton’s public pools, they set a precedent that would last for generations to come.

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