Woodland Hills Pool was located in Woodland Hills Park (now called Luke Easter Park) on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive just north of Kinsman Road. It was a site of racial threats against Black swimmers in the 1920s-40s.
The Woodland Hills neighborhood in Cleveland’s east side was formerly a part of the hamlet of Newburgh and that numerous streets around Buckeye Road were created in the late 1800s. However, Woodland Hills—which joined Cleveland in 1913—was intensively inhabited between 1900 and 1930, mostly by Hungarian immigrants. Situated atop a hillside with views of the industrial development and train lines at its base to the west, the neighborhood became primarily residential with a large number of two-family homes. The Great Migration led to the formation of a small Black enclave called Mount Pleasant, and the Black population of the surrounding area gradually increased over the next few decades. Racial transition made white ethnic residents uneasy, but some of them were enraged when African Americans tried to use the Woodland Hills Park pool. In the summer of 1927, white swimmers attacked some African Americans attempting to use the pool. This led George A. Myers, a Black activist who had once worked as the barber in Cleveland’s Hollenden Hotel, to insist that the city government protect Black swimmers at the pool.
However, efforts at racial exclusion persisted at Cleveland’s Woodland Hills Pool in the 1930s, as reported in articles published in the Cleveland Gazette and the Call and Post. These reports exposed discriminatory practices by recording incidents in which Black people were refused admission to the pool. The articles emphasized the necessity for immediate action to address segregation as a pervasive issue affecting community well-being by highlighting the wider racial and social conflicts surrounding the pool. Attorney Norman L. McGhee, chair of the Legal Defense Committee for the National Negro Congress and the NAACP, wrote a letter to Mayor Harold H. Burton in June 1936. In the letter, he stated that people of color would hold the mayor and his police force responsible for any unrest that occurred at the Woodland Hills swimming pool that year. This addressed the persistent problems that Black bathers had, claiming that the police had constantly fallen short of offering sufficient safety. Anticipating an increase in the number of Black residents using the pool, McGhee wanted a policy statement from Mayor Burton in advance. The letter highlighted the need of providing adequate security for African American residents at the city-owned pool, citing incidents in the past brought on by protests from particular factions. It concluded with the note that city swimming pools were set to open the following week.
News reports noted that conditions improved at Woodland Hills Pool in July 1936. Local authorities, along with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Legal Defense Committee, made sure there was enough police protection there. Swimmers were completely protected by Officers Harney, Harris, and Lee as well as the 26 other police officers assigned to the pool. A group of people, including civil service commissioner Clayborne E. George, Yetta Land, Jerry Land, Sam Goldman of the ILD, Chester K. Gillespie, President of the NAACP, and attorney Norman L. McGhee, visited the pool unhindered. One article highlighted how the hostile climate of past years was replaced with a more welcoming one at the pool. The Future Outlook League and the Youth Council were among the groups using the pool without any problems. Anyone interested in learning more about visiting the pool any day of the week was urged to get in touch with Bud Douglass at the Call and Post office.
However, this was not end of the troubles at Woodland Hills Pool. As the police and City Hall relaxed their vigilance, more attacks were reported in 1937 and 1938. These attacks led to some avoidance of the pool by African Americans. The atmosphere remained tense until World War II. Thereafter, as the surrounding area became much more integrated, so did the pool, and racial incidents seem to have declined. In the postwar years, those whites who did not want to live in an integrated area moved farther out. As they did, Garfield Park Pool became the newly favored swimming spot for many, but Blacks also lived in Lee-Seville, which was not far from Garfield Park. It, too, began to be a site of racial incidents starting in 1950.
An unfortunate time in American racial discrimination history is shown in the segregation at Woodland Hills Pool. Racialized tensions in the pool chart the neighborhood’s development from the influence of first- and second-generation central and eastern European immigrants to the Black population’s influx. Even with programs like appointing lifeguards of color and fighting discrimination, the pool’s persistent problems highlight broader racial tensions and inequalities in society. The incidents at Woodland Hills Pool act as a microcosm of the larger struggle against racial injustice and segregation throughout American history, calling for a reassessment of achievements, an admission of persistent challenges, and a revitalized dedication to promoting inclusive and equitable communities.
- “Are We Cowards?” Call & Post. July 16, 1936.
- “Aroused Citizenry Demands and Gets Warrants for 6 From Police Prosecutor.” Call & Post. August 11, 1938.
- “Burton Promises Colored Guards at Woodland Hills.” Call & Post. July 9, 1936.
- “Burton Responsible.” Cleveland Gazette. August 27, 1938.
- “Drive Colored Swimmers From Woodland Hills Pool: City Recreation Head Demands Equality For Negroes.” Call & Post. August 2, 1941.
- “Luke Easter Park.” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. case.edu/ech/articles/l/luke-easter-park
- “Mayor Orders Discrimination at Woodland Hills Pool Stopped.” Call & Post. July 21, 1934.
- Michney, Todd. Surrogate Suburbs: Black Upward Mobility and Neighborhood Change in Cleveland, 1900–1980. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.
- “Myers, George A.” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. case.edu/ech/articles/m/myers-george
- “Negro Bathers Shun Beautiful Woodland Hills Swimming Pool.” Call & Post. July 21, 1938.
- “Six in Attack on Negro Bather at Woodland Hills Pool.” Call & Post. August 11, 1938.
- “Warns Mayor on Woodland Hills Swimming Pool.” Call & Post. June 18, 1936.
- Wiltse, Jeff. Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.