AUSTIN (KXAN) — After being told she could not swim in Barton Springs Pool during her Austin High School senior picnic, Joan Means Khabele took matters into her own hands.
She was the first Black person to jump into Barton Springs Pool, according to the city, in an act of protest against the pool’s segregation. That action led to the start of weekly “swim-ins” during the summer of 1960.
The city said the movement sparked the civil rights era swim-ins and eventually led to the desegregation of Barton Springs Pool.
Austin NAACP President Nelson Linder believes her efforts were made possible thanks to her family’s and some of the community’s support.
“She had a support system that allowed her to do that and sustain that so I think that’s important to understand,” he said. “It wasn’t just, ‘Well, I’m going to go do this.’ She had the network, her parents and experience to make this happen.”
Khabele, an east Austin native, died last October, but her legacy lives on. A childhood friend remembered her as a woman who was, “devoted to her church and she was always involved in activities had a moral compass and so I imagine that’s how she became so civically oriented.”
On Saturday, the city honored Khabele’s life with a ceremony at Barton Springs Pool. The event will feature speakers, a water blessing ceremony and a documentary about her efforts will be screened.
Those at the Austin Parks and Recreation Department said “listening booths [are] set up for community members to share oral histories and personal experiences regarding race and Barton Springs.
The oral histories will become part of an exhibit, virtual and physical, that will be featured on-site at the Beverly S. Sheffield Education Center.”
Unfortunately, KXAN could not find any photos of the swim-ins and those at the city believe that could be because at the time the press did not cover the ‘swim-ins’ in an effort to not encourage additional protesting across the city and state.
Linder believes there are photos out there that some family or community members took during that time and said it is his goal to find the photos.