LYNCHBURG, Va. (WFXR) — A fun, family camp day on Saturday was also an educational experience commemorating 60 years of integration at a local pool.
When every pool in Lynchburg shut down to avoid integration, Camp Kum-Ba-Yah in Cosby Woods opened its grounds to all families.
It became the home of Lynchburg’s first interracial swimming experience and a site visited by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1962.
Henry Fleming has lived in Lynchburg his entire life. He remembers a time when his family was only allowed into Camp Kum-Ba-Yah because public pools had been closed by the city after integration. In the 1960s, Camp Kum-Ba-Yah was known as the Lodge of the Fishermen.
“It was very segregated. You could feel that you weren’t accepted,” said Fleming. “I just knew it wasn’t right because it didn’t feel right. All of this was going on. We couldn’t go into the pools, couldn’t go into the stores, couldn’t use the restroom. They had white and colored restrooms.”
On July 4, 1961, six African American children and their chaperone were denied entry to the swimming pool at Miller Park. Instead of integrating, the city closed all three of its public pools.
“The only places you could go were private pools or to country clubs, which we didn’t belong to,” Fleming said.
Later that day, Camp Kum-Ba-Yah’s director at the time, Bev Cosby, welcomed everyone to swim at the camp’s pool as an act of racial justice.
“We’ve been here for over 60 years, and we hope that through this event we will be able to tell more people of it,” said Tremayne Edwards, a member of the camp’s Board of Directors.
In January 1961, the café at the Lodge of the Fishermen became Lynchburg’s first integrated public eatery, visited by Dr. King before speaking at E.C. Glass High School.
“The words ‘Kum-Ba-Yah’ literally means ‘come by here.’ So we always encourage people to come by here, check our trails, walk around, join our summer camps, join our year-round programs, be a part of us as we charter the next path for the next 60 years and for the next generations to come,” Edwards said.
The camp revealed two panels on Saturday, July 3, teaching the history of the site. They encourage guests to stop by and learn more about this piece of Lynchburg history.
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