The Great Pool Jump: Integrating Tift Park Pool
Albany, GA, 1963
By Randy Battle

Recorded & transcribed by Peter de Lissovoy sometime between 2001-2006.

[Randy Battle worked for SNCC throughout the 1960s.]

The "pool jump" over there in Tift Park pool began with my big mouth — and Joni Rabinowitz. I was sitting right next to Joni. She had picked me up, so we were sitting together in a mass meeting. The meeting was a big discussion how they were going to handle the pool in Tift Park, how they were going to demonstrate, you know, what they were going to do, they were figuring out strategy how to integrate it. So I kind of just leaned over like that whispering in Joni's ear, I say, "Hell, why don't they just get a bunch a folks together to go over and jump in the motherfucker."

I didn't a bit more than get it out of my mouth before she jumps up and hollers, "Hey I got an idea! Why don't you all go over there and jump in that pool!" Pointing at me you know.

And then they called me up there and say, hey, since it is your idea, you lead. And I didn't want to have a blessed thing to do with it. I just wanted to be out on the fringe of it, you know, like when you go to church, you put down your little money but you want to stay in the background. And if they march you might march a little bit until you get to a certain part — I knowed where the jump off part came at! I wasn't going to jail! I been to jail. And doggone it, but they got me. And I went up and I had to figure out how to do it.

So then we got all of these young folks to volunteer. There were about seventy-five volunteers, and all of them were going to jump in the pool.

Remember old Phil Davis? He could tell about this better than I can, because he had all their names. All of us met up in CME (after the CME African Methodist Episcopal Church — but also affectionately, Crime, Murder, and the Electric chair), on somebody's back porch round there, you know, their yard was full of these folks.

And we broke them off in groups of fives and sixes, and everybody was going to walk down different ways and approach the pool from different directions. Most a the girls were in one group, Phil was in a group, Peter in another group — and then all of a sudden when everybody got within running distance we were going to go ahead and jump over the damn fence and jump in the pool. At least that was my idea. I don't know how many, or if any others, ever had in mind to jump that fence and dive in or whether most folks thought it was a march or protest in and of itself.

Doggone it we went on over there and you look around and you could see this little group over there and another one over yonder, three or four hundred yards away or fifty yards away and this group twenty-five yards away, and everybody looking dead serious.

Doggone it, you got within about fifty foot of that pool there was a bunch a police. They knew we were coming, sure! I don't know how, but they knew we were coming. So there were two more with us — there were five in our group. But when we couldn't get around the backside of it, Jake Wallace and James Daniels and me, we just walked round the pool to the front, and really we had decided to abort.

But I don't know what happened, we looked at that pool and we said, Oh fuck it! We saw a little opening. We could see all them women at the front gate and trying to buy tickets and singing "We Shall Overcome" — all of them went to jail. About fifteen or twenty of them. They were out there trying to buy tickets to go into the pool, but that was supposed to be our front to, you know, keep the observers away from us and give us a chance to get to that fence and get over it. All them went to jail, that's the funny part of it, and we didn't — because they tried to buy a ticket.

And we turned around and when we started running we hit that fence and were over that fence and in that pool in a second. And we swam on cross that pool to where that ladder came up. And then out we went out that back gate. Me and Jake and James went over that fence and went cross the pool — you know I walked across the motherfucker, I didn't hardly swim in the water. I saw that ladder and dripping wet out we went out that back gate.

And then you know we crossed over Jefferson Street to that alley, and you know we weren't running. Dripping wet, shoes, clothes everything. But then a big old collie got after us. I don't know if he was playing with us or wanted to bite us, but anyway by chasing us he made us run and helped us on our getaway otherwise we might have lingered, and we took off then and ran to Arcadia church. It wasn't but a block away.

We climbed a tree. And three deacons came and stood right up under us. Water dripping off us kept hitting them on the head! One of them looked up and saw us up there and he called, "Whachy'all doing up in that tree!"

And we said we just jumped in them white folks' pool.

And they say, "Whachy'all do that fer?" One of them say to me, "Junior" (I been called Junior all my life) "I know you better than that! What you do that fer!"

I say, "We demonstrating! We with the Movement!"

So they say, "Well get down outa that tree." They open up the back door and let us on in the church. They knowed the police wasn't going to search the church. The police had them motorcycles then, and they was just riding around — they knew we were somewhere out there, someplace.

Look here, though, the funny part of it, the best part of it of all, when we hit that water in that pool, when they looked over there and saw "them niggers" in that pool, goddam it them white folks and kids went straight up in the air. They didn't climb out, they went straight up in the air, and flew over to the sides — I mean that's what it seemed like to me. I bet you in half a minute there wasn't nobody in the pool but the three of us. And they started screaming and hollering, "Niggas! Niggas!" Them white folks hit the air like dolphins, you know, right up in the air they flew.

And do you know this, they drained that pool and spent three days scrubbing it down! And wasted all that city water up, and had them niggers down there scrubbing with hand brushes. Yes, they scrubbed every inch with scrubbrushes, that's what they did back then.

And now, I did a lot of things in the Movement, as you know, but that was my beginning. I mean my real beginning. That's when I made my commitment. Everything else I did before that was, you know, hell I don't even know how to describe it — it was just something to do.

So all of us was still wet, and we went and got some dry clothes from my house. I know James Daniels went right by the SNCC office and was bragging on our exploits and all. I was still about half wet, but I went straight on over to my job where I worked at the grocery.

But you know, jumping in the pool, that wasn't what committed me. It was that man calling me a "nigger" right in my face afterward, that was what committed me. That was Earl Bronson's grocery store over on the corner of Third and Washington, and he asked me, "You don't know nothing about them niggers jumped in our pool now do you?"

And I looked him in the face, or looked away, and I said, "Naw" — no that's not what I said, I said, "Naw sir," because back then you didn't say "yes" and "no" to crackers, you know I wasn't that enlightened then, and I said, "No sir!"

He says, well okay you go on to work then, and I went back there, and then all of a sudden I'm back there taking my inventory so I know what I got to pull out of stock and put on the shelves and stuff, you know, I'm there with my pad saying I got to put this and that stuff out there, and this and that and that, and I'm back there picking it out, and all of a sudden I almost got knocked down with a thought, I mean my knees went weak, and I said, that sonofabitch called me a nigger!

Right in front of his face. And I'm saying he called me a nigger because I know I'm one of the ones that jumped in the pool. I mean he didn't call me a nigger by name, but he said "them niggers jumped in our pool," and I was one of them, so he was calling me a nigger. So I says I'm going to fix his goddam ass, and I made up my mind right then, I say, I'm going to get that money to get that car with and I'm going home and change clothes and this cracker can kiss my ass!

Sure enough I got that hundred and fifty dollars as a loan he had promised me after I had worked for such and such length of time and he called that cracker up at the car lot saying he be right on down there and let him have the car. But instead I went home and changed clothes and went to the SNCC office. And didn't leave it no more. And that was my commitment — no, he committed me. If he'd've never said — if I had've been somebody else, I mean if somebody else besides me had jumped in the pool, who knows, I don't know, it might not have affected me that much. I don't know.

I took that hundred and fifty dollars over to the SNCC office and I believe Joyce Barrett took some of it for groceries. You know, we didn't always have much good to eat at the SNCC house except what was in them battered cans and so on that Giles sent over from his grocery and others with no labels on them. You know, Sherrod peeled the labels off them, otherwise everybody eat the lasagna up first and all, all that's left is the string beans.

So anyway, after I got that cracker to give me that hundred and fifty dollars, I don't know why I give Joyce Barrett some of it, but later on then, on Monday, we went back over to the store. I took Wendy Mann, and Penny Patch, and one more gal, maybe it was Miriam Cohen. And old Earl the grocery man he is back there telling me he going to sue me if I don't give him his hundred and fifty dollars back. And I'm back there just talking to him.

And the girls they got all these meats and things, and got nice food you know, all wrapped up on the counter, and I got the money in my pocket. You know I took them over there for the hell of it. I took them over there to show off. I'm back there behind the meat counter talking to the motherfucker. And then when they got it all rung up, they say, "Randy! you gotta come up here and pay for this."

He say — ! Well, I walked out from behind that counter fast. I made me a hasty retreat. I got round out from behind that counter with all them butcher knives and shit! And I got up there to the cash register, and he hollered, "Goddam it if I knowed you was the one buying this damn food, I never would a sold it to you."

I said, "You didn't!" And I said come on y'all let's go! And we left it there.

You know later we got that Army dye from old Bob, you remember big Bob, and James and I snuck over there again at night one night, threw it in, and in the morning Tift pool was bright yellow and they had to drain it all over again! You know when you were in the Movement back then you sometimes did some foolish stuff just to irritate somebody that's all.

Like when James Daniel and Peter de Lissovoy went round town and painted all them little black coachmen white! Well, we were kids and those were the times. We never had it in mind to hurt nobody. They had to drain the pool twice then, for real.

Tift Park pool is the Boys' Club now. One day recently Peter and I went inside to tell the people how we were the ones changed the whole scene around here. And how James, Jake, and me had that "dive in" that day. You know what the fellow, the counselor, says to us? He says, "We have plenty that jump in every night nowadays by the evidence of it." That's all. I don't think he really understood at all. No — I guess he understood. Now the pool is a good thing for the kids. But we did change that. We jumped in that pool in Tift Park when it wasn't no joke, when they was dead serious for real about that, they kill you for that down here.

Copyright © Randy Battle

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