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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mabel Williams, August 20, 1999. Interview K-0266. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Demonstrations to desegregation a swimming pool

Williams remembers Robert's efforts to gain admittance for African Americans into a swimming pool built by federal dollars. White Monroe residents resisted his pressure, so he organized demonstrations. Williams does not reveal the outcome of the demonstrations.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mabel Williams, August 20, 1999. Interview K-0266. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

MABEL WILLIAMS:
I remember that as I told you before I lived on Quality Hill, or across the railroad tracks from New Town where the larger black community lived. And I remember a young, one of my neighbors drowned in a mud pool, mud puddle swimming out on Quality Hill. That same summer two or three other young black boys had drowned in mud puddles in, you know, trying to learn how to swim or just going swimming. You know, hot down here—
DAVID CECELSKI:
Cow ponds and things like that.
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Yeah. Right. And so Robert and—. Robert had said, "Well, this is just outrageous. We've got this pool down here." I don't know how he found out that the pool was built by the WPA with federal dollars. "You've got this pool down here supported by tax dollars. And it's restricted to white only." And he said, "Let's go before the city council and ask them for a day that they would set aside so that our black kids can swim." Now that was not a—to us it wasn't revolutionary. It was just asking for one day. Or—
DAVID CECELSKI:
Did y'all not really think of it as—
MABEL WILLIAMS:
No, no. We just thought they could set aside a day. I think Robert thought that the city fathers would do that. When he went before them and presented that to, "Well what about setting that aside?" I think at first they just said some time, so that the black kids could come in and swim. He really, at that time, I don't think he even thought that they would say no. But when they said no, they couldn't do that because every time the black kids swam they would have to drain the pool before the whites could use that again.
DAVID CECELSKI:
Did they explain that? Did they have any argument that this was just—?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
No, because black people had been in it. That was enough. At first they—. At first he didn't ask for a day. He asked, "Could you build a pool in our neighborhood?" That's what they asked, separate but equal, right? Didn't even have to be equal. We're just asking for a separate pool. "No. Can't do that." The city council, city recreation department—"We can't do that. We don't have the money." Then they went back and asked, "Well, if you don't have the money to build a pool in our neighborhood could you set aside some time when our kids can use the pool that you have? Because, after all, it was built with federal funds and it is tax supported by the recreation committee of the city. And after all, black people do pay taxes." And they—. Nope. They couldn't do that. And that's when they brought up the fact that they'd have to drain the pool and wash it out every time. So Robert really got angry after they finally went and told them that, no. There was no way and there was nothing that they were going to do. They weren't going to even try to do anything to help relieve the situation. So he told them, said, "Well, you know, if you want segregation, segregation's very expensive. And if you can't afford it, then you don't need it." And that's when he came back and we started to organize the demonstrations around the pool.
DAVID CECELSKI:
And what were they—they'd be—
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Our young people and Rob would get together and they'd go down to the pool and picket around the pool.
DAVID CECELSKI:
Signs and everything?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
With signs, yes. Signs and—. This pool's built with federal funds. We have a right to swim. Open up the pool and let us swim once a week, or whatever. I don't even remember all of the signs. Maybe the newspapers recorded. I'm sure they did record some.
DAVID CECELSKI:
Did you go down there some?
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. But most of the time when I was down there—. I didn't picket. I was in the car with guns. [Laughter] But I was not picketing.
DAVID CECELSKI:
[unclear]
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Yes, yes, yes. I was always there in the car. Not always, but part of the time I was there in the car. And each time that I was there in the car there was a gun in the car with me. And—
DAVID CECELSKI:
And you were just—
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Just sitting there waiting and, you know.
DAVID CECELSKI:
In case the situation arose.
MABEL WILLIAMS:
Um-hmm. When we had to protect the kids and get them out of there. My youngest son was—. I think my older son was allowed to go down and picket with the kids as well. So—. At that time, you know, guns were legal as long as they were not concealed in North Carolina. So we had the guns on the seat. [Laughter] They were not concealed. Anybody walking up could see that the guns were there.
DAVID CECELSKI:
I'm sure they noticed them, too.