Twenty-four year old Cullen Jones is the third African American to make an U.S. Olympic swimming squad and he is determined to dispel the myths that black people can’t swim or are biologically less buoyant than white people (as laughably outlined in a 1969 study called “The Negro and Learning to Swim“).
While it is common for most West Indians and coastal Africans to be adept at swimming there are three major historical factors in America that have kept blacks out of the water: slave owners preventing them from learning to swim so they wouldn’t run away; segregation that prevented blacks from using public pools; and economic disadvantage.
After a 2007 study commissioned by USA Swimming and the University of Memphis found that 60 percent of African-American children couldn’t swim, Cullen Jones partnered with the USA Swimming Foundation’s “Make a Splash Program.”
In addition to teaching kids to swim, Cullen Jones acts as an example for black youth as he strives to be the second African American Olympic swimmer to win a gold medal (Anthony Ervin became the first when he won the 50 meter freestyle in a tie with Gary Hall Jr. in 2000).
Jones will compete at the Beijing Olympic Games in August.
PHOTO: Daniel Johnson