When Raymond Bowlding Sr.’s children wanted to swim at the local pool in their Mount Rainier neighborhood in 1974, they were denied membership because they were black. The Prince George’s Swimming Pool — a private pool that opened in 1956 — required new members to be sponsored by two existing members. The pool was all white, and these members apparently liked it that way, effectively blocking any black people from joining.
So Bowlding, with help from the NAACP, filed complaints with the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and the Maryland Commission on Human Rights to force the pool to integrate. It worked, and in 1975 the pool was integrated and no longer required member-sponsorship to join.
But the Bowldings, who say they faced racism in the neighborhood, never went to that pool. Instead, they walked a mile-and-a-half to a pool in D.C., where they felt more welcomed.
“My question was always, ‘when can we go swimming,'” recalled his son, Raynard Bowlding, who was 10 at the time. “And [my father’s] response was, ‘fool, you can’t go to that pool, they’ll drown you.'”
Raymond Bowlding Sr., who was a welder and later a union representative, died in 1994 and his five children are now scattered throughout the country. Raynard Bowlding said they don’t often think about the pool, bringing it up only occasionally when they recall how their father made them walk to the pool in D.C.
But recently, David Nolan, the president of the Prince George’s Pool Board of Directors, was looking through past records of the pool and came across the story of Bowlding. He wanted to honor him and searched for his family members, eventually sending a letter to a son in Massachusetts. At 2 p.m. Saturday, the board will dedicate a shelter at the pool site to Bowlding, and all five of his children will travel for the ceremony.
“It really is a sign of how far the pool has moved since its origins,” Nolan said. “It’s indicative of where we are today.”
Today, Nolan says the pool’s members are diverse and, with a 1,300-person waiting list, it’s still a popular attraction.
“That someone took the time to thank my dad, it knocked the wind out of me. I think it was so great and awesome for them to reach back and remember that,” said Raynard Bowlding. “It really knocked me to my knees. After all this time, my dad is still making waves.”