This is written to take exception to the June 28 opinion column by Kyle Sonnenberg, former Southern Pines town manager, in reference to the Southern Pines Pool Park.
I am joined in submitting this by the members of the West Southern Pines Civic Club, along with West Southern Pines Citizens for Change, the Rufus McLaughlin American Legion Post No. 177, the Moore County Chapter of the NAACP, Cornerstone Lodge No. 68, Golden Star No. 84, Order of the Eastern Star, PHA, and the Southern Pines Men’s Service Club.
In 1962, Town Councilman Felton J. Capel advocated for the building of a pool because African-Americans were not able to swim at private clubs. This pool was used daily in the summer, and all youths were required to learn to swim by the senior lifeguard and West Southern Pines High School coach Joe Wynn.
For decades, most of the lifeguards were from the home-grown talents that included Scott Bennett, Mitchell Capel, Jeffrey Capel, Ernest Clark, Larry Crawford, Ed Dickerson, Henry Douglas, Lee Elliott, Scott Fairley, Randy Ferguson, William Fisher, Craig Gordon, Allen Hallman, Ricky Hallman, Butch Hines, Oliver Hines (pool manager for two decades), NFL veteran Chuck Hinton, Naomi Hinton, Travis Kelly, Ricky McLaughlin, James McKayhan, Tim McKayhan, Velma McLellan, Michael McNeill, Doug Patterson, Darcelle Smith, Denzell Smith, Brenda Wooten and coach Joe Wynn.
The residents took pride in this asset, have taken very good care of it, and have not abused the facility. However, the function of maintaining and repairing the pool has been and is the sole responsibility of the town of Southern Pines.
The original bathhouse still stands today, in its primitive form, with no aesthetic improvements made in the past 54 years. Moreover, not until recent years was the pool property acknowledged as the Southern Pines Pool Park. Residents previously referred to it as “The Clayhole,” because of the type of the soil exposed as the pool was being dug.
Mr. Sonnenberg said that lifeguards for this pool have been difficult to recruit and noted that the location in the African-American community was the reason. He added that many in the “larger community” were now comfortable and accustomed to attending baseball, softball and soccer games at the Morganton Road complex and that if a swim complex were built on Morganton Road, these folks would be comfortable in patronizing it. Are they comfortable in knowing that fields their children are now playing on were once the landfill where all the town’s waste was dumped?
We are reminded of the words of Langston Hughes: “I, too, sing America. I am the darker brother. They send me to eat in the kitchen when company comes, but I laugh, and eat well, and grow strong. Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table when company comes. Nobody’ll dare say to me, ‘Eat in the kitchen’ then. Besides, they’ll see how beautiful we are and be ashamed. I, too, am America.”
We perceive that the larger question is not whether the Town Council will have the courage to build a new pool that will “effectively serve the entire community,” but whether it will agree to invest in repairing, upgrading and intentionally maintaining the pool at this historical site, just as they have invested in new and improved facilities in other areas of the town.
As town manager, Mr. Sonnenberg had the power to recommend major improvements to the Pool Park as well as to implement means of recruiting and retaining lifeguards. Instead, he has returned and turned this matter into one of race.
If we are to put the “legacy of segregation” behind us, let us maintain this site as the first municipal pool built in Moore County. Instead of razing it, include it on the map of other historical sites for tourists and locals to appreciate.
Meanwhile, the Recreation and Parks Department is sponsoring monthly activities at the Pool Park this summer for families, and it continues to partner with community groups in these efforts as it does the year around.
The department has also made significant upgrades and additions to the property that greatly enhance the quality of life for the citizens of Southern Pines and the area. Of note are the walking trail that connects the Morganton Road fields to the Pool Park, the pavilion and new playground equipment. The department is also in open dialogue with other partners to prepare for the training and hiring of lifeguards for next summer.
This is the kind of collaboration that binds rather than separates us — and moves us forward together.