Discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin was now banned by federal law. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 specifically outlawed racial segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations. Private clubs, however, were exempted and it was unclear whether or not the federal law applied to the Terrace Club, which at the time was owned and operated as a private club. Since the late nineteenth-century, a similar “private club” exemption had existed in the Ohio Revised Code. Thus, despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act, segregation of many American swimming pools — including the Terrace Club — continued in the summer of 1964, just as it had before. The fight to end Jim Crow in Portsmouth was not yet won. In hindsight, direct, non-violent actions — what had become known as wade-ins and sit-ins — was what was needed to compel Portsmouth's white leaders to once and for all end Jim Crow in the city.
Portsmouth's local branch of the NAACP would play a key role in planning the demonstration that would ultimately force the management of the Terrace Club to integrate their facilities. At the time, Charles Stanley Smith, Jr., a 32-year old employee of the Empire Detroit Steel Mill in New Boston, led the organization. Smith would tell the local press that the action was aimed at challenging the pool’s segregation under Ohio law, not the new federal law. “This is supposed to be a private club, but the word ‘private’ only means to bar Negroes,” he explained. The wade-in planning was extensive and involved secret coordination with Portsmouth Police Chief Ted Wilburn and County Coroner, Dr. James F. Scott, who ended up playing a critical role in the successful resolution of the controversy. In addition to the NAACP’s president, Eugene Collins, Curt Gentry, Roy Burns, Jesse Baggette, and other (not yet identified) community members, including two juvenile boys, decided on who would actually wade into the water.
Gentry, at the time, was home from Maryland State College on his summer break, having recently participated in demonstrations organized by a local chapter of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The protests, in Cambridge, Maryland, had turned as violent as Birmingham under Bull Conor, with the police using firehoses and German shepherds to break-up public demonstrations by Civil Rights activists. It was in Cambridge, that Gloria Richardson emerged as the leader of the movement, and there is little doubt the struggle in Cambridge informed the thoughts and actions of Gentry, as he supported the use of direct action against the Terrace Club in Portsmouth.
Gentry, who went on to a professional career in three sports (baseball, basketball, and football), was already well-known in both the white and black communities of the city. He had been a standout student and athlete at the integrated Portsmouth High School, serving in student government and starring in varsity sports. His former PHS basketball coach, Charles Lorentz, it turned out, also managed the segregated pool at the Terrace Club.
The wade-in planners coordinated with the Police Chief’s vacation schedule so that Wilburn would be at home and off-duty when the direct action began on July 17th, 1964. Eugene Collins and Curt Gentry’s mother stationed themselves at the entrance to the Terrace Club, positioned so that they could testify in court as to how the pool staff, guests, protesters, and police handled the situation. At 1pm, the appointed time, when the pool was packed and everyone was enjoying the sun and water, Smith, Gentry, Burns, Baggette, and two juvenile aged African American boys (who go unnamed in the newspaper accounts) approached the entrance. They asked for admission and were denied. As planned, they placed their 60-cent guest membership fee on the counter, hopped over the turnstyles, and made their way to the pool.
Once they had entered the water, the life guards blew their whistles and an unnamed pool employee went on the loudspeaker, calling on everyone to immediately clear the pool. According to Eugene Collins, when the demonstrators refused, the voice from the PA system announced: “If you do not leave the pool you will be arrested.” They refused and the Portsmouth police were then called. Detective William Combs and Captain Ray Thompson soon arrived. The demonstrators again refused to exit the pool, and, as Thompson, who was Acting Police Chief, was making plans to arrest the protestors, Ted Wilburn showed up, unannounced, and took command.
When Chief Wilburn ordered the black swimmers out of the pool and they once again refused, the Chief ordered Combs and Thompson into swim trunks and sent the two officers into the water to arrest the protestors.
While the crowd waited for the swimmers to be arrested, some of the younger white swimmers jumped back in the pool in a show of solidarity. A photographer with the Portsmouth Daily Times was there to catch the moment when one of the white youths reached out to shake hands with one of the protestors. The younger generation of Portsmouth residents appear to have been ready to put aside the old Jim Crow.
Once Combs and Thompson were in the water, there was no further resistance and the six demonstrators were peaceably escorted out of the Terrace Club and placed in unmarked cruisers before being driven to the police station at the City Building. There, as previously arranged, Dr. Scott and Bud Hairston, another leader in the city’s black community, waited, ready to post bond, if necessary, to secure the release of the protestors.
It was at the Police Station in the City Building that the critical showdown occurred, when attorney Ormond Adams, representing the Terrace Club’s Board of Directors, pressed charges of trespassing on both the adults and juveniles who had entered the pool. At this point, Dr. Scott intervened, explaining that the Portsmouth City Police would have to release the juveniles — they could not be arraigned in the municipal court; the city would have to release the juveniles to their parents or the sheriff would have to arrest the juveniles to process them through the county’s juvenile court system.
The decision of whether to arrest the children fell to Scioto County Sheriff C. Russell Burns. First elected in 1958 on the Democrat Party ticket, Burns would serve as Sheriff until 1969. With the pool’s attorney pressing for their prosecution in juvenile court, Sheriff Burns at first decided to take the children into his custody. This dramatic turn in the controversy is an example of how fragmentary the historical record can become. Dr. Scott’s threat was never reported in the press and was first revealed in an oral history interview of Eugene Collins. Juvenile protestors played key roles in the fight to end segregation in Portsmouth, as elsewhere.
When Sheriff Burns moved to arrest the teenagers, Dr. Scott took his stand and the last remnant of Jim Crow in Portsmouth began to crumble. The black county coroner reminded the white county sheriff that in Ohio the coroner is the only public official empowered to arrest the sheriff. If Sheriff Burns were to proceed with his plans to arrest the juveniles, explained Dr. Scott, he, as County Coroner, would place the Sheriff under arrest. To his credit, Sheriff Burns backed down. The juveniles were set free and never charged. Municipal Court Judge Charles E. Smith released the four adults on $25 bonds and the charges, after months of delays, were dismissed ultimately in July 1965.
Once released from police custody, Charles Stanley Smith asked the Portsmouth Times reporter, "We all go to school together, live together, why not swim together?” The refusal of the Terrace Club management to integrate, along with Sheriff Burns’s decision not to arrest the juveniles may have emboldened the local movement, especially its younger supporters. A second direct action was soon planned.
Although the local leadership of the NAACP would deny any role in its planning, clearly its rank and file membership were involved. On July 21st, four days after the wade-in, forty youths staged a massive sit-in to block the entrance of the Terrace Club. According to the Portsmouth Daily Times, “Police Chief Ted Wilburn was summoned to the scene and gave the order to move the youngsters to the police station. The action was taken after repeated requests from pool employees to clear the gate.” The demonstrators were first taken to the Municipal Courtroom, "the only available room at City Hall large enough to hold the group.” The Daily Times noted that “Juvenile Court officials later notified police to transfer the youngsters to the courthouse, so they could be handled by juvenile officials.” The children had once again forced the issue of whether county officials would intervene to defend Jim Crow.
The children, many of them now joined by their parents, were moved to the Scioto County Court House, where they were told to wait for the entrance of Judge Paul E. Fowler. The Civil Rights Movement in Portsmouth had reached a critical impasse. Chief Wilburn and the municipal and juvenile courts were clearly not going to tolerate wade-ins and sit-ins at the Terrace Club and the Movement had shown local law enforcement and the courts that they were no longer going to simply accept Jim Crow. While the children and their parents waited, a behind the scenes “conference session” played out in the Judge’s chambers.
Fowler first met in private with Charles Stanley Smith, Jr., and then, as a group, with Ormond S. Adams, president of the Terrace Club; Charles Fugitt, court probation officer; and two additional representatives from the local NAACP chapter (who go un-named in the Times reporting, but, a good case can be made it was, once again, Dr. Scott and Bud Hairston). According to Judge Fowler’s statement to the press, law enforcement and the representatives of the NAACP had “arrived at a good understanding,” following their discussion of “individual adult responsibility as it affects youngsters of the community.” Explaining that there are legal and illegal ways of demonstrating, Fowler proclaimed that “demonstrations must be kept within the lawful realm of activity.” And Chief Wilburn indicated that “action against the parents probably would be sought if children are used in future illegal demonstrations.” Charges of “contributing to the delinquency of minors could be filed against the parents.”
With a clear threat of arrest for any further protests, Fowler ordered that the children be released and no charges be filed. The summer of 1964 would unwind, the court hearings for the adult wade-in demonstrators would be repeatedly postponed, and no further demonstrations were held. The local chapter of the NAACP supported their legal defense and, according to Eugene Collins’ account, their investigations turned up records that proved the Terrace Club had been receiving city water at a discounted rate. In other words, this supposedly “private,” white-only club, it was claimed, was receiving a form of public subsidy, which implied that the pool was in fact operating as a public accommodation.
While the legal drama unfolded behind the scenes, the Terrace Club continued to enforce its Jim Crow membership rules for the remainder of the summer of 1964. The silence in the public square unnerved some residents. As the summer came to end in early September, the Times published a letter that chided city leaders for remaining quiet: “Perhaps I thought some of our white citizens would speak up on the injustices of the Terrace Club swimming pool. …. I feel we live in a very unhealthy atmosphere when no one wants to become involved. Religious and civic leaders are quiet on anything so controversial.” The writer, Mrs. Olive Goings Melvin of 1154 Ninth Street, recalled the paper’s original coverage of the wade-in, which captured the support for integration that could be found in the community. “I must say,” concluded Melvin, “I admired the young man who shook hands with one of the swimmers. Thank you, young man, for showing Portsmouth there is some good when all looked so bad.”
The Terrace Club board of directors would ultimately decide to integrate their facilities, but they did so only upon reopening the following summer in 1965. They dropped the name “Terrace Club” and relaunched their now-integrated pool as it had been originally named when first built in the 1920s — Dreamland. The impact integration had on the attendance and finances of Dreamland is debatable. After the pool was opened to African-Americans in the summer of 1965, but before the opening of McKinley pool in the summer of 1967, attendance at Dreamland appears to have declined, as some residents chose not to swim in the newly integrated waters.
In June of 1965, Rose Ticatch, a resident of New Boston, lamented the drop in attendance in a letter to the Daily Times wherein she called on area whites to embrace an integrated facility: “Dreamland swimming pool is the heart of the city in summertime. Don’t let it die. History tells us that it took all kinds of people to make this great country of ours what it is today. Let us go to work like our fore fathers did and build, not destroy, this wonderful opportunity that we have and follow the law of the land. It is a great place and big enough for everyone that has an open mind.” Dreamland did not die with integration. With the opening of McKinley Pool on 17 June 1967, the two pools allowed for the continuance of a form of de facto segregation in Portsmouth, now no longer enforced by law, but rather supported by continued racism and the legacies of red-lined residential neighborhoods.
Whites, of course, could be found swimming at McKinley and occasionally blacks did swim at Dreamland, but it was clear that each community had its own un-officially designated swimming pool. Dreamland would thrive through the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, experiencing what some would consider its heyday and much of the community’s current nostalgia for the pool focuses on these formative years of the Baby-boomer generation. With maintenance expenses and insurance premiums, along with the increased competition of newer township swimming pools such as those in Rosemount and Wheelersburg, Dreamland's finances deteriorated and by 1993, the facility would be closed, sold, and demolished. Its demise paralleled and, for some, symbolized the larger economic decline of the city in the 1980s and 1990s. By the time author Sam Quiones had named his best selling book about the opioid epidemic on Portsmouth's Dreamland Pool, there was growing nostalgia for the so-called good old days when Portsmouth's economy was strong, when good jobs were plenty, and summer days were spent playing in the sun with friends and family.
Today, much of the old Terrace Club property and the Dreamland Pool itself has been converted into a parking lot, serving a strip mall, which is anchored by an Aldi's grocery store. Without a historical marker and without any surviving structures, all that is left are photographs, family movies, and the fading memories of those who once spent their summers in Dreamland.
Tiana Adeniyi, “Interview with Eugene Collins,” Stories of Life & Labor: Oral Histories from Portsmouth, Ohio, Center for Public History, Shawnee State University. A portion of this interview is available via https://soundcloud.com/tiana-adeniyi/2-collins-eugene-interview.
Blaine Bierly, “Swimming Pool Integration in Portsmouth,” PHS Trojan Alumni Prints (August 2011).
Rebecca D. Jenkins, "Forgotten: Scioto County's Lost Black History," MA Thesis, Bowling Green State University (2015).
Ray W. Thompson, "Black People Go Swiming in Dreamland Pool," in Law and Disorder while Assigned to Metro Police at Portsmouth, Ohio (unpublished typescript, c. 2011).
“Cambridge, Maryland,” SNCC Digital Gateway, SNCC Legacy Project and Duke University, https://snccdigital.org/location/cambridge-md/.
"16 Rabbis Arrested as Pool Dive‐In Sets Off St. Augustine Rights Clash," New York Times (19 June 1964).
Niraj Chokshi, "Racism at American Pools Isn’t New: A Look at a Long History," New York Times (1 August 2018).
“Four Freed on Bond after Pool Entry. Negroes Charged with Trespassing at Terrace Club,” Portsmouth Daily Times (18 July 1964).
“Trespassing Charged After Pool Wade-in,” Coshocton Times (18 July 1964).
“40 Negroes Stage Sit-In at Local Pool. Police Remove, Arrest Young Demonstrators,” Portsmouth Daily Times (21 July 1964).
“In Pool Demonstration Officers Warn Against Children in Protests,” Portsmouth Daily Times (22 July 1964).
“Cites ‘Injustice’ of Pool Operation,” Portsmouth Daily Times (2 September 1964).
“Wants Dreamland Pool Kept Operating,” Portsmouth Daily Times (5 June 1965).
“Charges in Pool Incident Killed,” Portsmouth Daily Times (28 July 1965).
Jeff Wiltse, Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007).