PHILADELPHIA — A class action complaint filed in federal court against the Valley Club in Huntingdon Valley, Pa., on behalf of an African American mother charges that her four children and others were denied swimming privileges due to the color of their skin.
The children attended Creative Steps Day Camp in Northeast Philadelphia. In early June the camp’s director, Althea Wright, arranged for her 65 campers to use the pool at the suburban Valley Club on Monday afternoons from 3:30 to 5 p.m. The Valley Club charged the camp $1,950 and this was paid in full from parents’ fees. Wright said the campers looked forward to swimming in the pool, located on the club’s beautiful 10-acre grounds.
But on the first day at the pool, the Black and Latino campers experienced an unpleasant reception by the white Valley Club members.
“Several children came to me,” said Wright. “They told me Valley Club members were asking, ‘What are all these Black kids doing here?’ The children said members were saying mean things about them.”
Then most of the white club parents took their children out of the pool and stood beside it with their arms folded. Only three white children remained in the pool.
Two days later, John Duesler, Valley Club president, phoned Wright and told her that the club’s members had overruled the board’s decision to allow Creative Steps Camp to use the pool. He said her payment would be refunded.
Wright told Duesler that the parents of her campers were outraged and the children were emotionally upset because of the way they were treated.
The Valley Club issued a statement to the media stating that pool membership for Creative Steps Campers was canceled because of overcrowding, not because of race. Duesler added, “The kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club.”
When Jabriel Brown, 11, heard the word “complexion” he became teary eyed. His mother said, “He is dark skinned and wondered if he had the wrong skin color to go into the pool. He will never forget this.”
The incident was reported by the media, and there have been a series of protests outside the Valley Club. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission is investigating what happened at the club following a request by the NAACP for such a probe.
Condemnation has come from many groups and individuals. Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones, an African American, said, “Hearing this about what happened to these 65 kids is both disturbing and appalling.” Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter issued a statement calling the allegations extremely disturbing. Girard College, a boarding school in Philadelphia, offered its pool to Creative Steps Camp for the summer as did several other organizations.
The bad publicity must have changed the minds of the Valley Club members. They met over the weekend and voted unanimously to reinstate the swimming rights of Creative Steps Day Camp as well as two other day camps. Amy Goldman, a Valley Club member said, “The children from Creative Steps Day Camp were well behaved and respectful. I didn’t think the pool was particularly overcrowded.”
The club says it wants to meet with the camp directors and work out safety issues. But parents of the campers said they did not want their children to return to Valley Club.
Several campers were asked if they wanted to return to the Valley Club pool. All said no.
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