In the 03/10/1976 Washington Post Article by Dennis Collins, "DC Blacks Cut Bonds in Swim World," interesting
and relevant items are featured which I think merit further research and documentation. The article was a report on the
DCPS Coaches Relay Championship in which 4 generations of Coaches and Swimmers gathered to celebrate African
American participation in our sport.
Thomas Hughes, a DC resident born in 1902 , graduated from Dunbar HS in 1921 and later received an
undergraduate degree from West Virginia St., and then a Masters in Biology from Cornell. Having won his first
medals in Swimming in the segregated competitions in 1915, Coach Hughes carried a love for the sport with him
throughout his life. In 1947, Coach Hughes was working at Tennessee A&I and helped to form the CIAA league
(Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association) with Coaches Thomas Johnson of Howard University, and Sid Moore
of Hampton Institute.
In attendance at the 1976 DC Relays, Coach Hughes reunited with former Tennessee A&I Swimmers Stanley
Gainor, Clarence Bell, and Bruce Bradford who were all participating in the meet as coaches for the Cardozo,
Dunbar, and H.D. Woodson High Schools respectively. Likewise, District of Columbia sitting School Board Member
James Featherstone, another Tennessee A&I Swimmer under Coach Hughes, and H.U. founding Coach Johnson
were also in attendance.
Collins related in his article on how the Tennessee team was founded in a time of strict racial segregation
in the state-that in fact Coach Hughes could only travel to willing hosts such as Loyola in Chicago, Fairmont
in West Virginia, and Ball State in Indiana. Furthermore, Hughes related in the article that although one Nashville
Newspaper "The Tennessean," dared to compare A&I to Vanderbilt and requested a trial in the pool, state law
prohibited such interracial events. Although the NCAA did not have specific rules excluding participants or
schools based on race, Coach Hughes asserted that eligible athletes such as Stanley Gainor missed out on
their chance to participate in the NCAA Nationals, as they graduated before the 1954 Civil Rights Act.
According to Collins, Hughes reported that his Tenessee A&I Swimmer Leroy Jones was the first African
American Participant at the NCAA Swimming Nationals in 1954-Jones returned again to NCAA's in 1955.
In the 1950' s, the District of Columbia began major demographic shift in ethnicity. As a result,
according to Hughes, the Central HS was renamed Cardozo and it's indoor Swimming Pool became
open to African Americans. Before that time, according to Hughes, the only indoor pools available to
African Americans were at the Dunbar High School and the 12th St. YMCA. As a result, Coach Hughes
explained that his swimmers only had the 3 Summer months available for training and were severely
disadvantaged in training while other swimmers trained year-round at the Ambassador Hotel, Naval
Recruiting Station, and Walter Reed Hospital pools. This is of note as the WRAMC team was
repeat AAU National Champions throughout the 1950's, producing numerous National and International
Collins reported as well that the local District AAU official policy towards integration before 1966 was
unconfirmed through the clear disagreements of the persons interviewed for his article, but noted that
Coach Bell's Whirlwind Swim Club out of Dunbar H.S. appeared as the first team of African American Swimmers
when admitted to the DCAAU in 1966.
Having grown up in DC, I was quite familiar with Coaches Gainor and Bell from DCPR competitions
at Cardozo and Dunbar. Unfortunately, I do not have access to any photos or other materials to
help document their important contributions and personal stories. However, this is the type of material and
effort that can help to produce a clear history of the use of Age-Group, H.S., and Collegiate Swimming
as catalysts for change in the US, and I encourage all DAP affiliates to find and relate similar stories in an attempt
to give these pioneers their due.