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Black History Month: Local activists, black and white, worked to integrate Sully's Pool in South Park

Wednesday, February 21, 2001

By Linda Wilson Fuoco, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Other swimmers reacted quickly when the Rev. LeRoy Patrick shepherded six members of his congregation into the blue-green waters of South Park's biggest swimming pool.

"We got in the pool. They got out of the pool, most of them," Patrick says 50 years later. "For them we were a strange sight -- black people in the Corrigan Drive Pool."

The county-operated attraction had no sign saying "Whites Only," and no laws banned anyone. But whites patronized it in 1951 as they always had, while "Negroes" or "colored people" swam in a much smaller pool less than a mile away.


The quest for diversity

By Roger Stuart, Editor/South

There wasn't a single black journalist in the newsroom when I arrived in Pittsburgh as a cub reporter 40 years ago.

In the South suburbs, blacks and whites swam in separate pools. As recently as 30 years ago, one of America's most prominent African Americans, Muhammad Ali, was stymied in his quest to buy a home in Mt. Lebanon's exclusive Virginia Manor.

And decades earlier, the famed Homestead Grays starred as perennial champs of Negro National League baseball because there was no room in the major leagues.

As the stories on this page attest, a remarkable civil rights saga has unfolded in each of South's principal corridors - and the nation as a whole - thanks to people of great character and courage.

Related stories:

Mt. Lebanon's past of not selling homes to minorities is highlighted by Muhammad Ali's effort to buy in Virginia Manor

Homestead mayor hopes to rename High-Level Bridge after Grays


That pool, which officially was called One Hundred Acre Pool, was known generally as Sully's Pool, and it often was referred to by blacks and whites as The Inkwell.

Patrick, the young pastor of Bethesda Presbyterian Church in Homewood, had heard blacks didn't swim in the Corrigan pool and was surprised no one was questioning this. "I said, 'Let's see.' I got five or six young people from my church and said, 'Let's go swimming.' I didn't tell them or their parents what I was doing."

"Remarks were made" by white swimmers, so Patrick and his group retreated to the side of the pool, where they chatted and tried to pretend things were normal.

"White teen-agers were jumping over our heads into the water. I was desperately afraid for my young people. I was afraid they would be injured. We were in the pool for quite a while before the county police showed up and put an end to the whole business. We played for another 45 minutes or an hour. Then we left."

But Patrick returned later to the pool in South Park and visited white pools in Pittsburgh segregated by practice and tradition rather than by law.

In the early 1950s, small groups of blacks and whites joined to swim in traditionally white pools and were supported by a variety of groups and organizations including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Urban League of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Presbytery.

Marguerite I. Hofer of Upper St. Clair was one of the whites who accompanied blacks to the Corrigan Drive Pool. Husband Lawrence J. E. Hofer and their son Richard went with her.

"Richard was only 8 or 9, I think, and he was the only white child swimming with black children in the kiddie pool. When white children asked him why he would swim with Negroes, he just shrugged and said, 'Because I want to.'

"My husband was a rocket scientist, and we had friends in the university and international communities. We had black friends to our home and friends from India and Ethiopia. We had Jewish friends."

Hofer regarded integration and tolerance of diverse peoples as very much a matter of Christian faith. "My name was in the newspapers. I got letters threatening my life. I got nasty phone calls. I guess I was too innocent or dumb to be worried about it."

Richard came home from school one day with his snowsuit covered with mud. Children had put him in a mud puddle and rolled him around to make him look like the people his parents had befriended.

"Richard was crying. We explained everything to him, and I think he was the better for it. Actually, it was part of his growing up. To this day he carries his lifetime NAACP membership card in his wallet."

Hofer's beliefs and volunteer work with the Presbytery led to a paid job in Presbytery's Church and Community Committee. She worked from 1952 through 1977 on issues both locally and in the South when the Presbyterian Church became involved in the voting rights of Southern blacks. "The swimming pools were just part of it. The Presbytery also worked with other groups on fair housing and fair employment."

Integration efforts at Corrigan Drive went relatively well compared to integration efforts at segregated city pools.

"We didn't take our son to the city pools, where situations were very volatile," Hofer said. "City police stood outside the pool facing crowds that threw bricks and stones at us. We swam on our backs [to see and dodge the projectiles]. One time a city pool had to be closed the next day and water drained out so maintenance workers could remove the bricks and rocks."

John and Gladys Golightly of Pittsburgh's East End participated with Hofer and Patrick in pool integration efforts.

"We had a lot of friends who were liberal, and we would sit around and talk about how awful [segregation was]," Gladys Golightly recalled. "We decided to do something about it. We went to Corrigan Drive to swim. Black people were pushed, my husband was attacked by some young ruffians. It was somewhat scary."

"We were members of the NAACP," John Golightly said. "We felt pool integration efforts were badly needed. White people could not understand why we, being white, should be involved in this. There were a lot of good people involved."

"The white hooligans were very impressed with our black attorneys," Gladys Golightly said.

Among them was Wendell G. Freeland, now 75, who still has a Downtown law practice.

"In the late 1940s, white people and black people went together to city pools and were stoned," he recalled. "There were no laws barring blacks from certain city pools, but there was no protection for blacks. In 1951, we filed a lawsuit against the city, saying pools had to be made safe for Negroes or closed."

The lawyers won their lawsuit, but pools were still segregated.

"We moved on from the city pools to the South Park pools. We had some opposition from Negroes [who enjoyed going to Sully's]," Freeland said. But he never swam in the Corrigan Drive Pool or any other pool. "I couldn't swim," he said with a chuckle.

Integration groups succeeded in cracking the color barrier at the Corrigan Drive pool in 1954, according to old newspaper accounts. The county commissioners issued anti-discrimination orders covering both South Park pools.

"Negroes and whites have patronized the facility ever since," says a 1963 clip. In reality, though, most blacks continued to swim at Sully's while most whites went to Corrigan Drive.

County officials announced in 1963 that they would abandon their long-standing practice of assigning white lifeguards to the Corrigan pool and black lifeguards to Sully's. The staffs were to be rotated.

But the Presbytery and NAACP rebelled and that summer labeled Sully's a "symbol of segregation" that should be shut down for a while, renovated and re-opened at a later date with a new name and an integrated staff.

Not so coincidentally, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. keynoted that summer's March on Washington with his much heralded "I have a dream" speech.

In April 1964, the county commissioners changed the name of Sully's Pool to East Drive Pool. While admission had always been free, the commissioners imposed the same 50-cent charge for adults and 10-cent fee for children that were the going rates at the Corrigan Drive Pool and also started charging rent on the barn near the pool.

Attendance at East Drive Pool plummeted from 2,000 on weekends in 1963 to only 600 or 700 weekend swimmers in 1964, while overall pool use dropped 55 to 60 percent. But the parks director at that time attributed the plunge to the fees, not to integration efforts.

Sully's Pool was closed in 1977. Though attendance at the big Corrigan Drive Pool remained good, it was closed not long after the Wave Pool opened in 1978, and later was filled in and paved over.

The privately run South Park VIP now features miniature golf, roller-blading and banquet rooms at that site, and a picnic grove on the crest of the hill on 100 Acre Drive bears no memorial or marker that it was the location of Sully's Pool.

Even the South Park Historical Society has very little information. Society archives indicate that in 1930 Allegheny County paid $47,700 for a house, barn and 47.11 acres described as "a commercial grove of Sulli-Nesta."

The swimming pool opened in 1938, according to old newspaper articles. The grove surrounding the pool was used for picnics, with the barn serving as a popular dance hall that attracted blacks from all over the county.

The boarded-up barn and vacant two-story yellow house remain, fronted by a sign that says "100 Acre House." The house is rented for weddings and other parties, and it is booked solid during the summer.

A yellow and orange building that was the bathhouse now bears a year-round "Phantoms in the Park" sign attesting to the building's annual use as a Halloween haunted house fund-raiser for the Make- A-Wish Foundation.

The main pool was filled in and paved over, but the original oval in-ground kiddie pool sits next to the former bathhouse. A rickety bridge, built by the haunters, traverses the tiny pool, which is filled with pseudo-spooky things at Halloween time.

Patrick, 85, and Hofer, 80, meet regularly and remain active in groups that work for diversity and equality. Patrick is pastor emeritus of Bethesda Presbyterian Church after serving 35 years as pastor. In 1998, Patrick and Hofer were among 80 people the Urban League of Pittsburgh honored for leadership and service to the organization, which celebrated its 80th anniversary that year.

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