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Vestige of Miss. segregation gets makeover

A vestige of the days of segregation has literally been unearthed in Stonewall, with excavation and a planned restoration now under way of the community's former whites-only pool.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A vestige of the days of segregation has literally been unearthed in Stonewall, with excavation and a planned restoration now under way of the community's former whites-only pool.

Refusing to accept the legal requirement to integrate, 1960s community leaders decided to simply take the pool out of operation — packing it with dirt to prevent anyone from using it.

By next summer, Meridian businessman Gil Carmichael hopes to have the pool reopened for usage by all members of the public, and to construct an adjoining RV park that will hold up to twenty vehicles.

Recently, mounds of freshly removed red dirt could be seen surrounding the pool, shedding light for the first time in decades on light blue interior tiles that once met the top of the pool's cascading water line.

A rust-colored brick walkway around the pool was in seemingly vintage condition at the deep end of the pool.

‘The gathering place’
Alderwoman Carol Long Ford considers her summers at the pool to be among her fondest childhood memories in the historic mill community.

"There would be so many kids in there swimming. It was the gathering place," Ford said.

The pool is one of many renovation projects under way at the old Burlington Industries mill since Stonewall Manufacturing Company Inc. purchased the property two years ago.

The company bought some 75 acres, including the former mill, adjoining parkland, and the restored Stonewall House, which is currently used to host weddings.

Burlington closed operations in 2002, leaving some 800 workers jobless in what had been a one-industry town.

For some, the pool brings back vivid memories — good and bad.

A place to get to, on foot
Given the pool's convenient location in the community center, Ford said there was rarely any need to use transportation other than one's feet to get there.

"Children could walk all over town. We walked to the pool from my aunt's house," said Ford, who grew up in Mobile, Ala. but spent summers in Stonewall in the 1950s. Ford returned to Stonewall as a full-time resident four years ago.

The pool was once part of the elegant surroundings of a now-leveled Victorian home, which belonged to the original proprietor of the abandoned cotton mill that served as the industrial heart and primary employer of Stonewall.

During the heyday, the Victorian home was transformed into a community house where children played dominoes, checkers and other table games, according to Oree Davis, secretary of the Stonewall Historical Society and a former mill employee.

"It was beautiful," Davis said of the pool. She even remembers the "one big pool" having a smaller wading pool for younger children.

Going with ‘the flow’
Davis, 71, was already married, working, and raising her own children when Stonewall decided that shutting its pool was a preferred alternative to letting black people in.

Although she personally opposed the pool closure, Davis remembers feeling powerless to do anything about it.

"It was terrible. That's the only thing our kids had to do," she said. "People back then went along with the flow. I guess they felt like (protesting) wouldn't do no good, anyway."

Davis says she considers Carmichael's plan to reopen the pool something long overdue.

That sentiment is shared by longtime friend and fellow lifelong Stonewall resident, Lindy Goodwin, among those once excluded from using the pool.

"I raised a lot of children around here for people, and worked in the (former) Stonewall Hotel and Stonewall Cafe," said Goodwin, 65, who is now retired.

Old fears rise to surface
But Goodwin never learned to swim and is still scared of going in the water — byproducts, she believes, of the fact that she other black children were prevented from using the community pool. "Back then, it didn't bother me," she said. "They just didn't want the blacks and the whites together."

Besides the pool, other renovation projects also are under way. Stonewall Manufacturing Company already has tenants in parts of the renovated mill area. They include: eatery Our Daily Bread, Emergency Communities' storage and staging area for flood disaster relief, and the Stonewall Historical Society.

An ethanol manufacturing company is considering part of the mill site for development of a new plant, Carmichael said.

Sales of antique bricks and heart pine wood from one of the former mill buildings have helped fund the enterprise, but Carmichael and partner Tom Sebring say they've yet to realize any profit.

"All the money we make is going back into developing Stonewall," Sebring said.