Swim Club Racism in Philly?

A rather thinly sourced piece in the Philadelphia News alleging racism at a private swim club is getting quite a bit of attention.

More than 60 campers from Northeast Philadelphia were turned away from a private swim club and left to wonder if their race was the reason.

“I heard this lady, she was like, ‘Uh, what are all these black kids doing here?’ She’s like, ‘I’m scared they might do something to my child,'” said camper Dymire Baylor.

So, a kid claims “some lady” was wondering about the presence of black kids at a private club that, one gathers, tended to not normally have large numbers of black kids?

“When the minority children got in the pool all of the Caucasian children immediately exited the pool,” Horace Gibson, parent of a day camp child, wrote in an email. “The pool attendants came and told the black children that they did not allow minorities in the club and needed the children to leave immediately.”

So, the white kids reflexively exited the pool en masse? Because they’ve never seen black kids before? In Philly?

And pool attendants — in 2009 Philadelphia — not only carried out a policy of excluding blacks from the club but had the incredibly poor judgment to tell the blacks that that’s what they were doing?!

Well . . . maybe:

“There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club,” John Duesler, President of The Valley Swim Club said in a statement.

Now, frankly, if I’m paying for membership in a private club so that I can take my kids swimming in peace, I don’t want said club to sell season passes to large groups of non-members. Not only does that make the pool more crowded but it rather diminishes the “club” aspect of the experience. Typically, members are vetted and recommended by other members; having a busload of kids coming in from outside the community makes it, in essence, a public pool.

That may be all Duesler is saying. If so, however, the use of the word “complexion” was exceedingly unfortunate.  Especially since, if this screencap is accurate, the club does have a rather light complexion.

Of course, it would be nice to have a link to Duesler’s full statement. (Valley Swim Club’s site is currently down.)

Interestingly, Ed Morrissey says there’s only one listing in the Philadelphia directory for a John Duesler:  “the man who ran the O-Positive Obama campaign blood drive in Philly before Barack Obama’s inauguration.”  If this is indeed the same guy, it would seemingly suggest that either 1) Duesler is not a racist or 2) he’s very confused.

Apparently, this incident occurred several days ago, so it’s not exactly breaking news even though the report came out just yesterday.  It would have been better to hold off reporting this another day or two to get more facts (which, I’m given to understand, is what reporters did back in the old days).  Were I the city desk editor, for example, I’d have asked the reporter to find out 1) what the racial composition of the club is; 2) whether similar incidents have occurred in the past; and 3) whether this sort of thing is common in Northeast Philadelphia or it’s contained in one club.  Perhaps she could try to find out who was at the pool that day and get some quotes from some of the members.  And, certainly, I’d have her follow up with Duesler to see if he’d dig himself any deeper or offer a plausible explanation.  And find out if he’s the O-Positive guy.

FILED UNDER: Uncategorized, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Vincent says:

    I have just read your article.

    Seriously, are you going to tell me that a summer camp, which had a contract with the swim club, that was promoting an open membership drive, would just suddenly change their minds after the arrival of the children from summer camp, strictly because it may change “the atmosphere of the club”?

    1) The club had an open policy, seeking new members.

    2) the summer camp had a contract with the club.

    From these points alone, I believe that the summer camp stands a very good chance of legal action for breach of contract.

    As far as “thinly veiled”, I suggest that you watch the news story at http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Swim_Club_Turns_Kids_Away_Fearing__Change_of_Complexion__Philadelphia.html#comments

    Then sadly, I am sure that you will likely enjoy the more openly racist comments following that story.

    Do not position yourself as an apologist for stupidity, as it will reflect poorly on the University of Alabama, your employer.

    Clearly, I suggest that you look inwards, and see if you belive that children, ANY children, should be treated in such a manner.

  2. sam says:

    While I agree with your main points, this mystifies me:

    Do not position yourself as an apologist for stupidity, as it will reflect poorly on the University of Alabama, your employer

    I think you have the wrong Joyner. Daniel Joyner teaches at the University of Alabama Law School, not James.

    Oh, and

    As far as “thinly veiled sourced”,


  3. Vincent says:


    Re: University of Alabama… My appologies to all. U of A is where the author recieved his degree. The “about the author” does not list the writer’s employer.

    re: 2nd correction.

    “thinly sourced” was correct. Thanks.

    “thinly veiled” is what I wrote, as my mind was thinking “thinly veiled racism”.

  4. John Burgess says:

    Now, odd as it may seem, racism isn’t actually against the law. Nor is it illegal for a private club to have a policy of excluding members of particular races or religions or sexes, not if they’re willing to forego federal tax benefits, anyway.

    The right of association still has some meaning under the Constitution, even if it makes for ugly politics. Private clubs are distinguished under law from public accommodations, thus are not required to be non-discriminatory in their membership or entrance policies.

    The law of contracts, however, could very well result in this particular club’s being stuck with a very high civil penalty. Racism, though legal, is a very unsympathetic stance, particularly when it comes to juries…

  5. Furhead says:

    Something’s not clear to me; in other words the media has failed to provide us all the facts available. On the one hand it says they were turned away, and I read at least one quote that the kids were disappointed because they were already in their swimsuits but didn’t get to swim. But how does that work with the sentence where all the whites jumped out of the pool when the blacks got in?

    Did they get to swim or not? Or did they just start getting in when the management changed their minds?

    In any case, I would have recommended honoring the contract that day, and then changing the rules for the future if necessary. For example, limit groups to 20 kids if the problem is crowding and/or rowdiness.

    But I’ve seen the faces before, I personally have little doubt that some of the parents were taken aback by a large group of black kids. Any group of 60 kids is going to be loud, but there’s probably an element of cultural differences in play as well.

  6. DavidL says:

    Seems like the story was dregged up just to stir controversy. In the local Fox afflliate story, the camp became a daycare centgr and blacks became, minorities, to include Hispanics and blacks.

    Then the same media and blogger types who are feigning outrage at the actions of a private swimming club, saw no problem with Sonia Sotomayor’s membreship in an all girls club. Nor did they see much problem with black election inspectors with billy clubs.

  7. Pat Curley says:

    James, aren’t you missing something? You seem to present this as an either/or situation:


    1. Duesler is a racist.
    2. Or he supported Obama.

    It’s quite possible that both of those statements are true. He could be a racist Democrat.

  8. James Joyner says:

    He could be a racist Democrat.

    Sure. But very odd to 1) hate black people and 2) vote for one for president over a white guy. Much less to actually organize something in the black guy’s honor.

  9. Wyatt Earp says:

    James, I live in Northeast Philadelphia, and I can tell you this:

    1. The Valley Club is actually located in Huntingdon Valley, PA, which is a suburb of Philly. It’s just outside the city limits, and is located about 2 miles from my home.

    2. I can assure you that the Valley Club and its members have experience dealing and interacting with African-American members and citizens. While the northeast section of Philly is mostly white, most all other races are highly represented here, with almost no racial incidents. (I was a patrol officer in that area for 5 years.)

    3. I highly doubt that white children exited the pool en masse because these kids started swimming. The only reason I can see groups of members complaining would be if the kids were extremely rowdy. (Not that I am accusing them of being so.) Personally, I think the NBC affiliate is stoking racial fires in an area that is almost always smoke-free, per se.

    That being said, could some members of the club be racists? Possibly. Did Duesler make a poor choice of words? Absolutely.

  10. Steve Verdon says:

    Saw this yesterday too.

    Regarding the white kids getting out, I see they have a swim team, could that be a factor? Having summer camp kids show up would probably be before or after swim practice. If after, then the camp kids get in (all black) and the swim team gets out (all non-black).

    At my son’s first swim team he had just finished practicing when some summer camp kids showed up, and yes most of them were black. When they got there any chance of anyone practicing (i.e. swimming laps, practicing turns, dives, etc.) would be completely impossible. The kids were rowdy and boisterous. Nothing wrong with that necessarily, but it would lend to the story that the camp kids show up, get in the pool the swim team, if in the pool, gets out.

  11. Terrell says:

    James Joyner

    Obama is only half white, and not to get too much off topic, but i know of 5 or 6 black guys who would cut off their left arm to be a part of the KKK, racist are strange people, there are some white people who just hate black kids, this guy may be one of them.

    why did you leave this part OUT of the story?

    1) The club had an open policy, seeking new members.

    2) the summer camp had a contract with the club.

  12. Steve Verdon says:

    why did you leave this part OUT of the story?

    1) The club had an open policy, seeking new members.

    2) the summer camp had a contract with the club.

    Because they aren’t in the linked story?

    Why do you think its important?

  13. Terrell says:

    important because they were looking for ” new members ” and the summer camp had a CONTRACT with the club to bring the kids there and were still thrown out because they were black. you don’t think that that’s important?

  14. Mithras says:

    Yeah, the kids would be there an hour a week and that made it suddenly “too crowded.” I find this less than plausible.

  15. Carmine says:

    I am a white Italian American and all I can say to the swim club is “WHITE, REPUBLICAN HONKIES. Enough said.

  16. John says:

    The sad thing here is that a small business owner and his wife have been tried, convicted and executed in the press.

    From seeing all the interviews it’s obvious that the President of the swim club was did this because his PAYING members complained about the overcrowding.

    He overstepped his authority (out of the goodness of his heart) by inviting 3 separate camps to send their kids to swim at bargain prices:

    60 kids @ $1900 = $30 per kid to swim once a week for 8 weeks!!!!!

    Normally you pay this much for a day where I live.

    I guess he’ll remember his lesson to not try to be nice to poor kids because their leaders will
    run to the press and destroy your reputation if they even perceive to have been wronged.

    Nuff said.

  17. Vincent says:

    He overstepped his authority (out of the goodness of his heart) by inviting 3 separate camps to send their kids to swim at bargain prices:

    60 kids @ $1900 = $30 per kid to swim once a week for 8 weeks!!!!!

    I guess he’ll remember his lesson to not try to be nice to poor kids…

    Cracker, please.

  18. Lucy Mensah says:

    The president of the swimming club said verbatim that the influx of minorities would change the “complexion” of the atmosphere. End of story. For everyone who even whispers of racism being dead…think again and enlighten yourself.

  19. Laurel Mason says:

    um hello? this “swim club” is actually located inside a JEWISH community center. How many black jewish people do you know? i dont know any….i dont have a membership there, but if i were paying for one, i’d have to cancel it or ask for my money back. anyway, why is this the first summer this has been a problem? is the jewish center suddenly low on membership due to the economy therefore taking signups from non jewish people? THAT should be the issue at hand here, not turning it into a whole racism thing…puleeze!

  20. Lucy Mensah says:

    I think that the individual who is responsible for the last post is being foolish. These are little children we are talking about! You act as though these are adults that have no business being a part of this swim club. What problem could you possibly have with children enjoying their time at the pool? It doesn’t matter if their Jewish, Chinese, Black, whatever. Ms. Mason clearly has a problem with minority children if she feels threatened enough to leave. Anyone who would leave because of a group of minority children or pull their children out because of them is an absolute FOOL.

  21. Lucy Mensah says:

    And furthermore, whether the swim club is strictly for Jewish people are not, the members of that swim club had no right to make racist remarks in the company of those children. Letting a child hear you talk about your fears that black children may harm your child or steal your belongings is downright mean and hurtful. I’d like to hear what Ms. Mason thinks about that. Open your eyes and admit that racism played a role in this situation and get off your high horse.