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Saluda Swimming Pool Integrates But Traditions Live On

July 29, 1989

SALUDA, S.C. (AP) _ The recent barring of black teen-agers from a pool owned by the Jaycees resulted from tradition and habit that lives on in this small town, residents say.

The Saluda Swim and Tennis Club capitulated quickly when its whites-only rule was challenged. It said it will admit blacks when it reopens Saturday after reviewing all its policies to ensure they are non-discriminatory.

Such change could have occurred only with the involvement of outsiders, say residents in this town of 3,000, 40 percent of whom are black.

The local Jaycees were pressured by their national organization after the July 13 incident involving three black teen-agers with a group of United Methodist Church members from across the state.

People living in the town knew that the pool was for whites - black residents swam in ponds and were unwilling to challenge the status quo, both black and white residents said.

″Blacks in Saluda know what’s what,″ said Richard Logan, the town’s first, and only, black council member.

At M.J.’s Cafe last week, Charlie Mason sat behind a wooden picnic table on the right side of the restaurant, where he and other black residents have sat for years. The left side of the restaurant, which is separated by a wall, was patronized by three white customers eating lunch.

″I’ve just been sitting on this side all the time,″ Mason, 58, said when asked why he restricts himself to one side of the restaurant.

The swim club ended its restrictions when threatened with eviction by the Jaycees, but without apparent bitterness.

″In 1989, it’s the moral thing to do,″ club president Robert Booth said.

″Really, everybody treated it as a private membership club as any city has country clubs,″ said Ralph Shealy, editor of the Saluda Standard-Sentinel. ″I hope the whole town is not treated as racist.″

Virginia Cobbler, who, like Shealy, is white, agreed.

″We have lived here with it all these years and we’ve never had any problem. They call it racism and it gets attention. I just hope it doesn’t create a big problem.″ Cobbler, 24, referred to blacks and whites in Saluda as ″family.″

Saluda is in rural South Carolina, 45 miles west of Columbia. It sits in an area known for peaches, livestock and textiles. Stores close after lunch on Wednesday, and the biggest news had been the upcoming celebration of Saluda as birthplace of Alamo heroes William Barret Travis and James Butler Bonham.

The swim club’s pool policy became the talk of the town, though, after it refused to admit the black church members who were part of a group of 66 who had spent the day renovating a dilapidated home.

Club officials noted that the pool site was willed to the town in 1933 by dairyman George C. Wheeler with the provision that it be used as a recreation area for white people.

In 1955, one year after the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional separate facilities for blacks and whites, the town deeded the property to the Jaycees with the whites-only provision intact.

The Jaycees leased the pool to the private club. No blacks ever applied for membership, Booth said.

State law does not address racial segregation in private clubs, state attorney general’s spokesman Mark Dillard said. But lawyers say racial covenants are unenforceable.

While some say they’re now reassessing practices and attitudes that have lived for years in town, others maintain that Saluda’s problems are no different from those elsewhere in the country.

″Racism is all over the United States,″ Logan said. ″It’s the same. It’s just done in different ways.″

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