June 21, 1949 – Race Riot Over Pool Integration in St. Louis, Missouri

The Fairground Swimming Pool in St. Louis was, at the time it was built in 1912, the largest municipal pool in the world. It had a diameter of 440 feet – almost one and a half times the length of a football field, and hosted between 10,000 and 12,000 swimmers per day. It was, however, only open to white patrons until 1949. At that time, St. Louis city officials decided to open the pool to the city’s black residents only in response to a federal court’s holding that prohibiting blacks from using public golf courses was a violation of the 14th Amendment.

On this day in history, some thirty African American children came to the opening day of the pool. As they were swimming, a group gathered outside the pool’s fence shouting threats at the black children. City police were called in to escort these children out of the park when the swimming period ended around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. There are conflicting reports on whether any violence occurred at this time.

African-American and Caucasian Children at Fairground Swimming Pool, June 21, 1949 – courtesy Missouri Digital Heritage

African-American and Caucasian Children at Fairground Swimming Pool, June 21, 1949 – courtesy Missouri Digital Heritage

But later in the day it was a different story. By 6:45 p.m., a crowd of several hundred had gathered, some 20 to 30 of whom were blacks. White boys with baseball bats surrounded a group of black boys, and beat one of the African American youths until a police officer fell on top of the victim to stop the attack. The crowd quickly grew to thousands, responding to cries that a black boy had killed a white boy. The violence that resulted required the involvement of nearly 150 police officers. Police finally got the crowds to disperse after midnight. The mayor immediately re-instituted segregation policies in order to minimize the potential for future violence.

FPN pool_4

Of the six people who were seriously injured, five were African American. The official report stated that seven people – three whites and four blacks – were arrested. Three African Americans and one of the white youths who were arrested were ultimately charged with inciting a riot.

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